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June 1, 2004

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It’s already difficult for a band to deliver a solid record amongst the hordes of indie media hype, but it’s even tougher when a band gets lumped into that musically awful genre so casually referred to as Christian rock. Luckily, for both himself and his listeners, Pedro the Lion mastermind David Bazan manages to transcend both barriers and put together a pretty masterful album. What Achilles Heel doesn’t evade is the routine and repetition that often plagues musicians who’ve already established themselves on previous records. In comparison to Pedro the Lion’s Control and the EP, The Only Reason I Feel Secure, Achilles Heel seems to lack the lyrical innovation which typified Bazan’s music. It’s a concerted effort, and Bazan almost succeeds, but falters shortly before I can validate Achilles Heel as a real keeper.

The beginning of the album is its strongest point. “Bands With Managers” and “Foregone Conclusions” are both reflections of Bazan’s earlier writing style. The slow drawl and stripped down instrumentation on the first track are reminiscent of The Only Reason I Feel Secure, while the latter is arguably the best song on the album. Opening with, “I don’t wanna believe that all of the above is true,” Bazan repeats what he does best: simple arrangements and clever lines diced with vindictive honesty and a religious message that isn’t dripping with Jesus references. The next two tracks are also pretty solid, and easily distinguishable from each other, but starting with “Arizona,” Bazan starts to lose focus. “Keep Swinging” doesn’t even sound like Pedro the Lion, in a bad way. Bazan sings, “You got drunk more so than you’d ever been,” and risks sounding contrived and cheesy.

Achilles Heel’s saving grace (no pun intended) may be “Simple Plan.” The ninth track, out of eleven total, slowly reminds me of how Pedro the Lion won me over originally. The low key, melancholy tune coupled with Bazan’s powerful delivery make it almost worth it to get to the end of the album. But the last two songs don’t follow through and the album makes a weak ending. “Poison” is indistinguishable and untouching. Bazan’s most compelling tool is his ability to assign human emotion to everything around him, but at times, I’m just not buying it. Compared to the most of the so-called indie pop/rock being released these days, Pedro the Lion is easily ahead. But those of us who know Bazan know he can do better than this. We’ve heard it, and Achilles Heel isn’t up to par.

San Diego Punk

Kayleigh Shaw