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June 1, 2004

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With a fifth album, indie-rock band Pedro the Lion returns with more wind in its sails than ever before. Less hushed than previous work, these songs comprise the most robust collection PTL has created to date.

Musically, Achilles Heel finds PTL with a more full-bodied sound and mastermind David Bazan with a more assured voice. The shimmering strum of "Forgone Conclusions" soars with an unbelievably natural melody and pace. The beautiful keyboard on the gracefully textured "The Fleecing" is a vintage and earthy take on futurism akin to Grandaddy. The gentle brisk rhythm and crystalline harmony move the lithe "Transcontinental." And the melodic "Start Without Me" contains the most expansive and open-armed chorus on the album.

The lyrical content, however, is where PTL has always been the most arresting. On the one hand, Bazan has a stirringly literate writing style that is versatile in subject and technique. Though rather adult in theme, the children's writer in him shows through in the whimsical "Arizona" (the moniker Pedro the Lion was taken from a character Bazan created for a possible children's book). However, the vast plurality of this album finds him in dark lyrical waters. The southern gothic tale of "Discretion" and the backside philosophical take on communism of "A Simple Plan" have wickedly hooked endings that channel the spirit of HH Munro.

On the other hand, Bazan is an observing Christian. From this perspective, he explores his relationships with others and God. But this ain't your glazy-eyed sister's alternative contemporary christian music . Bazan's accounts of his experiences as a religious person are rife with doubt ("The Fleecing"), darkness and frustration. It's a living, breathing thing that rightfully challenges a thinking person. Ultimately, his take on the experience of faith is a singularly humanistic one. Seriously, how many decidedly Christian artists would write the lyric "you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit saying shut the fuck up?"

Regardless of subject matter, Bazan's writing is in sterling form on Achilles Heel. Quite truthfully, it's literature put to music. And with the music being so much more elegant and expansive this time around, it all culminates in Pedro the Lion's finest album thus far. And the diversity in mood, sound and theme makes the record friendly to repeated listening.

Orlando City Beat

Bao Le-Huu