Pedro the Lion - Phoenix

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For many who appreciate lyrical, narrative rich indie, Pedro the Lion is an important namedrop. Songwriter David Bazan is known for thinking deeply about his life, often involving his complex relationship with religion, and feeding his ponderings through fragile and downtrodden rock music.

Around the same time Bazan was severing ties with his Christian faith, Pedro the Lion disbanded. As Bazan was in a new place in his personal journey, his musical direction also needed to start anew. For the past 15 years, David has been touring and releasing music as a solo artist.

But in 2019, Bazan is making music as Pedro the Lion again. Phoenix thematically centers on David’s childhood, reflecting on his youth with a grizzled, wiser outlook. With such an emphasis on the past, releasing a record under a retired moniker only makes sense.

“Yellow Bike” builds the setting of the album, as he sings about the freedom of riding around the streets of Phoenix, the city Bazan grew up in. What Pedro the Lion does so well on this new album is take seemingly insignificant memories, and funnel intimate meaning into them. “Yellow Bike” is symbolic of the longing he has for the companionship he lacked while touring a solo musician for years. “They remind me what it was like astride that yellow bike. My kingdom for someone.”

Similarly on “Circle K”, Bazan explores themes of instant gratification and the ways people often hinder temselves from attaining deeper and lasting satisfaction. David regrets blowing all the money from his allowance at a local convenience store in spite of wanting to save for a shiny new skateboard. At the end, he gives it a broader existential scope as he references a God looking away from him. Bazan may not consider himself a Christian in the traditional sense, but he is still asking big questions in regards to spirituality and humanity’s place in the universe.

On “Clean Up” Bazan once again alludes to his former religion while speaking of past shortcomings: “Sitting alone here in my grown-up mess, I wish I'd known better. The weight of the world is bearing down on me like Biblical weather.”

“Quietest Friend” is perhaps Pedro the Lion’s most endearing track to date. Bazan reminisces on an instance in grade school when he “took the Devil’s bargain”, being peer pressured into bullying an undeserving classmate. His broken vocal performance sounds genuinely disheartened and full of remorse.

Sonically, Phoenix is bigger, louder, and more immediate than Pedro’s back catalogue. After 15 years of playing small rooms, perhaps Bazan is ready to take his performances to the bigger stages. He has always been talented at fueling his biting sarcasm through vivid first-person narratives. That knack is still prominent on Phoenix, but he is noticeably more self-reflective. Instead of pointing outwards, he himself is the recipient of his own jadedness.

Bazan has mentioned a desire to be more open a vulnerable with his music, and that is evident with his candid storytelling. Phoenix is a welcome return for Pedro the Lion that does not feel like a cash grab, but the correct career move for a veteran who has thought a lot about life and wants to communicate with unbridled honesty. Since Pedro the Lion’s initial breakup, Bazan has had a lot of time to process. Religion is still crossing his mind, demonstrated with his smart Biblical reference points. Phoenix is a rewarding snapshot of an artist embracing adulthood.

Grade: B+

Matt Marciniec