Pedro the Lion - Phoenix - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pedro the Lion - Phoenix

by Brian Thompson Rating:8 Release Date:2019-01-18
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix

 It’s been fifteen years since the release of Achilles Heel, Pedro the Lion’s last studio album, but it isn’t because David Bazan stopped writing music. Under a variety of different monikers, he has taken to a handful of solo projects (“Fewer moving parts means fewer broken pieces / When every other start requires a brand new thesis”), finding it easier to compartmentalize his songs into such acts as Headphones, Overseas, The Undertow Orchestra, Lo Tom, and even his own name during the project’s hiatus. Last year, however, Bazan once again began touring under the Pedro the Lion banner, alongside guitarist Erik Walters and drummer Sean Lane, with a reunion album, Phoenix, allowing him to return to his old haunts and explore the sounds and themes that garnered his cult following.

Rising from the ashes as its title would suggest (also the name of the town in Arizona where he spent many of his younger years), the introspective record finds David Bazan revisiting his youth. After the spiritual, instrumental electronic rippling of “Sunrise” signals his artistic rebirth, Bazan is taken back to visions of a childhood long since past. Now in middle age, he is working through the specifics of how he became the man he is today. Whether he is recounting bittersweet memories of priceless artifacts (as on the infectious, pop-infused open-strummer “Yellow Bike” or the bass-heavy head-bobber “Circle K”) or wading through his constrictive religious upbringing (as on the slowed down, swaying mood piece “Model Homes” or the mellow waves of faded electronica on “Piano Bench”), Phoenix plays like eavesdropping on an intimate therapy session. While he redefines freedom, former regrets become today’s triumphs, and vice versa, as the questions Bazan is asking continue to shift and contort with age.

All of the record’s central questions revolve around the idea of shifting identity, so it only stands to reason that David Bazan would explore different sounds on the road to self-discovery. Nearly two and a half decades into his career, he still prioritizes experimentation. Much of the record finds comfort in zippy, upbeat rockers like “Clean Up,” which showcases Bazan pushing his voice to its limits with emotive high notes, but he continuously finds variations on familiar aesthetics. From the twangy dive bar jam session that is ”Quietest Friend” to the drifting, celestial meditations of ”Tracing the Grid” to piercing mid-tempo numbers like “Black Canyon,” he still isn’t quite sure who he is as an artist, so he’s exploring various avenues. Thankfully, nearly all of them turn out to be fruitful.

Following a fury of power chords and spastic drums (’My Phoenix”) and a hazy dreamscape breaking through the fog (”All Seeing Eye”), David Bazan ends the record on a bit of a hopeful note. Buoyant album closer ”Leaving the Valley” leans into the shaky optimism of uncertainty: “How do you know you’re finally home?” It’s a transitory piece and one that finds Bazan looking toward the future. With Phoenix, he is moving forward, reclaiming his insecurities and bringing to light the discoveries made while searching for his name. It’s on this journey toward acceptance that results in some of his finest tracks in years.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars