Reviews February 8, 2019

Album Review: Pedro The Lion – Phoenix

by Ryan Murphy

Pedro the Lion got out of the game at the right time. The David Bazan-led project wound-down its vaunted run following the release of its 2004 record Achilles Heel, just as the genre the band helped define began spilling over into mainstream radio. In the years that followed, “emo” would be weaponised as a slur—by outsiders and longtime acolytes alike—and earnest and plaintive music was largely cast aside for the irreverent, angular, and abstract indie rock that would define much of the next decade.

Because of this timely demise, Pedro the Lion was never subjected to the scrutiny laid upon the pop acts who would go on to appropriate its sound, strip it of all its power and meaning, and flog it to death over suddenly amenable airwaves. In the fifteen years since the band’s last release, their reputation only grew, and hordes of music listeners across the country will gather in front of stages throughout 2019 to see Pedro the Lion rise from the dead in support of its long-anticipated return on Polyvinyl Records.

Phoenix is reflective, but it isn’t necessarily nostalgic. Bazan fills his canvas with vivid imagery of youthful class anxiety, a childhood ridden by guilt and conflict between the modest gestures of his family and the material expectations of his peers. The songs are set in suburban school lunchrooms, church pews, and gas-station convenience stores—and when Bazan describes scenes of succumbing to peer-pressure and growing apart from neighborhood friends, it feels shockingly immediate, real and relatable. Rock music has never so clearly communicated the undue burden of keeping up with the Joneses.

Fans will instantly recognise the economical guitar interplay, diminished chord changes, and plodding melodies that seem to take forever to arrive but pay hefty dividends when they finally do. But Phoenix isn’t trying to replicate the seminal records the band sold to thousands of sensitive listeners in the late-90s and early-aughts. It feels borne from a place of greater contentment; songwriting that has come to terms with the formative years it tried for so long to overcome.

Pedro the Lion play Denver’s Bluebird Theatre on February 10 with Louisville, KY’s Tomberlin in support.