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March 21, 2004

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First off, if you haven’t heard or noticed yet, Pedro the Lion is a rock/indie band, but with a lot of Christian themes that come from songwriter David Bazan...but before you run screaming, know that Pedro the Lion, AKA mastermind David Bazan, produces good music and with genuine, thought-provoking lyrics that are completely devoid of preachiness. I didn’t even realize it for the longest time, maybe because it was good music, maybe because in his previous albums he used lyrics with profanities in them, or maybe it’s because a lot of the meanings were underneath the surface and I didn’t look hard enough. But then I found out and there it was. Another reason may be that Bazan has spent his musical career not only tackling issues of faith, but also political, personal, and cultural issues. For example, in the past, he has criticized legislation, both in lyrics like “I feel the darkness growing stronger as you cram light down my throat” as well as in interviews, commenting that in general, people should figure out on their own what is morally wrong or right. And this album is no exception, Bazan touches on some of the most vulnerable spots in our culture and our souls through his ever-sweet, ever-straightforward storytelling. While this album is not a tale in itself like his previous two were, he does present a string of masterfully crafted stories in Achilles Heel.

We hear several different voices touch on different themes in this album. The voices of the unfaithful and the scorned lovers in “Arizona,” a song where the speaker shows how all three involved lose and/or can hurt each other in their own way in the end when he winds up the story with the simple line, “scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes scissors, scissors fall apart.” In “Transcontinental” we hear the voice of a man in an accident grappling with fear and bravery, and get a sense of how Bazan can bring the listener into the story so completely with just one line like:

“missing limbs beneath the cars twitching on the tracks
click-clack, now handicapped”

where he so fiercely accurately demonstrates just how fragile humans are. Another example of where we see vulnerability and struggle as running themes in this album are in songs like “I Do,” "A Simple Plan," and “Discretion,” where David Bazan exemplifies the human condition solely as a function. Bazan explains that there is also "a sexist subtext, comments in the songs made from that perspective. The wife in 'I Do' who is reduced to a function. In 'Discretion,' the wife sleeps in her husband’s bed. The male voice of these songs are buckling under a patriarchal pressure.” We see another character contemplate suicide as his function and patriarchal role of family supporter disappears with the rise of communism in “A Simple Plan.” Bazan sings “we fought for a decade corruption and greed, it gave me a purpose a reason to breathe, but now that it’s over now that we’ve won, I still sit in my bedroom alone with a shotgun.” And then there are the songs of faith, songs like “The Fleecing,”

"But who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble, for every stupid struggle, I don’t know.
I could buy you a drink, I could tell you all about it, I could tell you why I doubted, and why I still believe,
But I can’t say it like I sing it, and I can’t sing it like I think it, and I can’t think it like I feel it, and I don’t feel a thing…
...I don’t know you and you don’t know me."

Soul-searching this honest doesn't come around often.

Bazan has a lot to say on a variety of important topics, and writes songs that, if nothing else, tell a story and make you think, songs that one can gather meaning from the surface as well as beneath. But as equally compelling as the sharp lyrics and classic storytelling is the music, which I find to be their strongest writing yet. I have to admit that when I first heard a few songs from earlier albums years ago, some of their music was a bit mellow for me, but they slowly grew on me and stayed with me. This has more upbeat songs that hooked me from the start as well as some more varied instrumentation part in thanks to joining multi-instrumentalist James McAlister of Ester Drang, but the most compelling part for me is David Bazan's penetrating voice annunciating each word so sweetly and undramatized yet still unfettered. The songwriting has a lighter, catchier feel while retaining the serious nature of the Pedro the Lion. Bazan himself stated that he and Tim Walsh had fun making this album, and you can tell.

One Times One

Jennifer Hall