Guest Author: Chase DeMaster
Pedro the Lion, the mid-western band from the late 90’s early 00’s, are basically most known for being a band that nobody really liked. But if someone rare person did, it was often their badge of honor/some element of their personal identity. There was always something extra about the band as well… some auxiliary conversation to the music, and it was always religious, and most people couldn’t be bothered enough to care. Well, as with most things, they are back, but this time it seems like it’s most just about the music?! Hard to say. With their new album Phoenix, this time around, it’s all about nostalgia. This might be fun. When you listen, try and count the number of times David Bazan references the past. Bottom line is, this record is unique, and has a secret formula to that “remember when” affinity. If you are interested in new(old) music that is entirely your own, I am confident you will be the only one who likes this new work and the lonesome space they occupy in your memories. I am also confident you will campaign everyone you know like a disciple in an attempt to award yourself some sense of exclusivity-empowerment because if they don’t already, they won’t.
Zooming out, Pedro the Lion was the vehicle David Bazan occupied to achieve notable acclaim before going solo. There are incredible musicians linked to all things David Bazan, but this project both past and present, is a bit legendary. I will save you the excitement, look them up yourself if unfamiliar. In regards to this band name and this new record after all this time, simply put… time, technology, and money have served them well? These songs are definitely in the spirit of “jump around” band era arrangements (as jump around as Bazan can get) that I think David wanted to be a part of but was just too depressed to pull the trigger. This is David doing Pedro without any absolute bummers. If you are looking for those minimal inspired takes like, “The Longer I Lay Here” from ‘It’s Hard to Find A Friend’, or the absolute tell all/nothing of “Be Thou My Vision” from ‘The Only Reason I Feel Secure’… try again. Even though there are pieces, say “Piano Bend”, that are just, less, they sound so … good.
It’s hard to not feel like these sounds are bigger than before. We can’t go back. Time and technology and money has turned the opacity of this music project to “fully realized”. But, the record is about going back. I think to David, and us, “Phoenix” is a about being in a band. And It feels like it feels like being in your first band. The band you made with your friends with your words before any of you had or even knew how to play an instrument. And it is loud. Because, everyone knows, in your first band, everyone always plays. And everyone always plays as loud as they can. But this band, for what feels like the first time, has means to do things in a certain way. A B I G way. Maybe even a nod to the heroic journey the new band has started on, this record has some “firsts.” The lead single, “Yellow Bike,” really pulls us into this paradigm of “remember when” and really just kind of hits the nail right on the head. And, it is the first ever Pedro the Lion music video! This is something you can’t go back on; Hero journey! This song, this record, this rebirth (“Phoenix”), it is clear David intends for a weighted nostalgic ride. For anyone else on a similar journey, Bazan does a great job of sharing his first person/subjective voice that occupies the shared real estate of the venn diagram so that us, as listeners, can also relate to as first person/ subjective narrative.
Yes, there are still the feel good drums fills that leave you just kind of suspended in the air and the old timey minor iv chords rounding out the end of phrases, but somethings, like his voice, come of as familiar but also a little bit… new. Through the record his voice is the tell for me. And, I really like it. David isn’t a young person anymore. Not that he is scraping by Bob Dylan or anything yet, but I am starting to hear stories in his voice. So many miles; all those songs and records and the band Bazan tours. And the intimate solo home tours, both of which he would just pours everything into, and the meet and greets at record stores that seemed like they would go on forever, and Q and A’s. He is a passionate person, and his voice is his vessel and all that vocalization adds up. Through his voice, we can hear all of his agency, both past and present, and he rides it hard. It’s really exciting because we are starting to hear that there might be a legacy in the making, and we all get to witness with such proximity. I can’t think of many artists with lines as active and as well documented as his at his modest popularity. Here is this is a band from our past, performing in a style or format from our past. Writing songs about our past. And it’s all been kind of, turned up. And it all makes for this heavy dose of nostalgia. And, if it doesn’t crush you, which I hope it does, you probably aren’t a good listener, now or then.
You can stream Phoenix on all streaming platforms, you can purchase it in all digital shops including on Bandcamp, or directly from Polyvinyl Records in multiple bundles and on multiple formats. Pedro The Lion will be on tour starting February 08 in Boise, ID at Neurolux until May 21 at Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, MN. A complete listing f their tour dates can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Ryan Russell.