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May 25, 2004

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Good music is ultimately about communication.  Pedro the Lion's full labor in this respect never receives its due admiration.  It's hard enough to effectively communicate your own thoughts.  What the albums of Pedro the Lion have done consistently is communicate the thoughts of fictional characters with an honesty the characters themselves would have trouble realizing.  The fact that the music has always been so deliberately and carefully made has allowed its creator, Dave Bazan, to establish a nearly flawless rapport with his fans.  Consequently, no learned Pedro the Lion fan will ever dismiss a new album for its superficial monotony, because that fan will know that Dave Bazan is about to say something important.  It is exactly this sort of perfectly anxious and attentive audience that awaits Pedro the Lion's newest album, Achilles Heel.

One important distinction between Achilles Heel and recent Pedro the Lion albums is the degree of collaboration.  Whereas the previous album, Control, was entirely Bazan's vision and instrumentation, Dave has found, at least for now, a musical cohort in T.W. Walsh, who shares in instrumentation, and possibly creative, duties.

Achilles Heel still maintains some of Pedro the Lion's typical short and morbid fiction.   "Discretion" is a murder story in the spirit of Pedro the Lion's2000 release Winners Never Quit while "Transcontinental" dictates the final thoughts of a man dismembered by a train.  A couple of the tales present more socially commentative pieces with wry allegories.  "Arizona" is a cleverly written geographical soap opera with New Mexico portrayed as a jilted lover.  "A Simple Plan" portrays a perfectly utopian, communist society where, not surprisingly, universal egalitarianism has still not solved man's existential dread.

The soundtrack for Pedro the Lion's storytelling has always been characteristically simple.  The music has never been anything that could stand alone and was never meant to do so.  In his craft, Dave has always presented a package, a complete ethos rather than careless lyrics and impersonal melodies.  Bazan's voice is, as always, unhurried, like a person telling a story slowly and clearly.  What is even more striking is Bazan's entirely unique approach to phrasing.  He draws out words longer than expected.  He gives sentences in atypically fractured segments.  He rarely utters a refrain twice.  All of these violate the classic brainwashing techniques of pop music.  This is because Pedro the Lion's songs are stalwart enough to stand up by themselves.  Think about it.  How popular would 50 Cent be if he only declared "urrbody in the club get tips" once and you were left to ponder the complete idiocy of that phrase for the rest of the song?

Another distinction between Achilles Heel and Control is the presence of songs that, by all appearances, are written entirely from Dave's prospective.  "Foregone Conclusions," a solemn denunciation of the selfish and inaccurate doctrines of American religion, should be played through loudspeakers all over North Dallas.  "The Fleeing" is particularly telling of Dave's frustrations in communicating thoughts effectively.  Both songs are dedicated to the complication of socio-religious interaction, an unappealing reality for a man who's just trying to tell the truth.

Much has been made of Dave Bazan's ties to Christianity.  Most of these queries have been directed towards the commercialistic implications, as if it's irregular for any person to have a faith of some sort.  Regardless, that is not why Bazan's faith is important.  I will let you in on a particularly esoteric fact of which you may not be aware: when Bazan says "fuck" on this album, an entire generation of earnest, but repressed, Christians breathe a collective sigh of relief.  The press has continually made the mistaken conclusion that Dave Bazan is a paradox for being simultaneously vulgar and faithful, but the aforementioned generation knows the real story.  For this selective demographic, the music of Pedro the Lion has and still is reconciling belief and experience by being honest.  Dave Bazaan is not contradictory, just sincere.  And he's not a spokesman for anything except being human.

Dallas Music Guide

Richard Sullivan