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May 17, 2004

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Pedro the Lion's debut It’s Hard to Find a Friend could have just as aptly been named It’s Hard to Top this Album, because indeed it has been. Though the album’s character seems almost manic in its variation between quirky, bitter-sweet ditties and bogged down, dreary tracts, its bright points are indeed blinding. This is perhaps why all Pedro albums that followed fell short in the estimation of reviewers and fans alike.

6 years after that defining debut comes Dave Bazan’s latest effort, Achilles Heel. On this latest album we see more musically and lyrically mature songs. Bazan’s bitter-sweetness has lost its sentimentality, his self-deception and thinly-veiled justifications become all the more believable, and all the more universal. While the world of Pedro the Lion continues to occupy the grey-matter of self-reflection and inner-questioning, the topics upon which Bazan expatiates continue to expand. While never losing sight of his three touchstones (death, lost love and God), Bazan approaches his concerns more tangentially than in previous endeavors, showing a growth in lyrical precision and restraint.

Achilles Heel proves as diverse an album as Pedro has ever produced. The jangly and vitriolic “Foregone Conclusions” finds its counter-point in the dirty, driven, and self-deprecating “Keep Swinging,” which is smoothed by the enigmatic and bittersweet “Start Without Me.” Yet despite this diversity of sound, Achilles Heel is a well crafted album, each track blending into the other effortlessly. Having disposed of the thematic links used to unite previous albums, Bazan focuses on the musical rather than lyrical landscape of this collection of songs. This approach allows him to span a wide range of sounds and topics without creating the uncomfortable and forced track progressions sometimes found on previous Pedro albums.

Far from being Pedro’s weakest point, Achilles Heel puts the lie to its own title, as it is easily the bands strongest album yet. The only question left is how long it will take Bazan to once again outdo himself.

The Philler

Matt Hotham