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June 1, 2004

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Pedro the Lion has a way of turning lemonade back into lemons. The Seattle-based indie rock outfit - which essentially boils down to one man, David Bazan - sets plaintive anecdotes about the human condition against sweet, childlike melodies and luscious chord patterns that move at a snail's pace. It's like reading a Russian novel with a music box twinkling away in the background.

That's not to say that Pedro the Lion's music is without hope. As the band's picture-perfect new album, Achilles Heel, illustrates, you just have to do a little leg-work to find the solution to Bazan's sobering questions.

Achilles Heel breaks Bazan's recent pattern of concept albums just in time. Rather than having to stay faithful to a linear storyline, he was free for the first time in years to deal lyrically with whatever issues presented themselves.

"Whereas before I might have decided, 'I'm going to write a song about potato wedges,' and then I would write a song about potato wedges -now, with Achilles Heel, I really tried to leave it open the entire time," Bazan explains to the Fly. "I would just write what came out. So, approaching the creative process that way was a lot more fun and yielded results that I liked better, and that made it pretty much impossible to do any sort of concept record."

After trying his hand at guitar rock on 2002's Control (Jade Tree), Bazan is retreating to the melodic jangle of his earlier albums. At its rockingest, Achilles Heel sounds like Coldplay, to use a pop reference, in one of their more raucous moments. "On the first Control tour, I think I decided that the whole direction of the record and the way that we were representing it live was a little bit obnoxious, I suppose," Bazan admits. "And so, ever since then I've been slowly scaling things back as far as the rock is concerned, realizing that it's just not my forte."

Pedro the Lion is one of the bright spots in music today, inventive without being pretentious, emotional without being emo, melodic without being Five For Fighting.

Here's where I lose you: They're also a Christian band. Well, not a Christian band, but a band of people who just happen to be Christians. As you're probably experiencing right now, stumbling across the "C" word in a music review is often like finding a big, fat spider in your bed.

An argument can be made that you shouldn't dismiss Pedro the Lion for being Christians any more than you'd dismiss the Beastie Boys because Ad-Rock is a Buddhist. And in fact, Bazan has about as much of a religious agenda as the Beastie Boys. They definitely don't sound like Christian music. But still, people just love to point an accusing finger at Bazan. Sometimes he points his middle one back at them.

"I would prefer that people were able to interact with the songs without bringing so much to it, assumptions about my character, about my belief system or anything like that. That would be ideal," Bazan explains.

"But at the same time, without that little story of, 'Weird, this guy is somewhat religious,' we wouldn't get nearly as much press as we do," he says with his usual candor. "I don't prefer that that's our story, but I guess it is."

Fortunately, the artistry in Pedro the Lion's music outshines any of the religion phobia that normally has hipster indie kids crying into their iPods. In fact, the band's becoming a regular underground sensation, to the point that Bazan really has to look the mainstream world in the eyes and decide if he wants to join its ugly ranks. "I guess I'm a bit torn about some of that. I think that if I could make a living in indie rock, I would prefer to remain damned to it," he says hesitantly. "Because I think that the mainstream world is pretty fickle, not to mention almost completely soulless. It's not run by a bunch of music lovers who are following their heart." For the first time in the band's seven-album career, Bazan has recruited what appears to be a permanent rhythm section - and just in time. "I was just really getting bored or irritated or something, I don't know, with the way that the band went. And then with this album and then sort of getting these other two guys to play with me, I just have really gotten a new lease on my life in the band. I feel really great about that," he gushes. "It would be nice for the album to sell well and for the tours to go well, because that would really help the three of us that are playing in the band support our families and be able to keep on doing this."

Having just re-signed with so-cool-it-hurts indie label Jade Tree, Pedro the Lion will be around for at least two more albums of cerebral, melodic indie-rock goodness.

Fly Magazine

Jeff Royer