Review: Pedro the Lion — ‘Phoenix’

After 15 years of solo records that chased feelings of blame, grief, and missed connections, living room tours, and monthly 7” records to connect to his fan base, David Bazan has awakened the Pedro the Lion moniker following an unplanned stay at his grandparents’ home.

Phoenix, the resulting album, finds Bazan no longer looking over his shoulder; he’s more interested in the mirror-reflected convictions and vulnerability emoting from tracing his childhood streets. The old shines like a new discovery and the mythical power of resurrecting flares full regalia.

The brief opener, “Sunrise”, shines electronic sunbeams, signaling a change. Holding hands with the opening strums of “Yellow Bike”, listeners are greeted by Bazan’s concrete images and a vehicle for transport. More than a toy and early thrill, Bazan’s oldest desire for human connection cascade forward as he sings “a kingdom for someone to ride with”.

“Powerful Taboo” harnesses lift and bounce before settling in for Bazan’s prophetic insight. He sings, “but you can always smell which fruit, you really want to bite into”, scratching a Biblical itch concerning the fruits of the spirit. Even in his agnostic state, Bazan intends to match the fruit he speaks of throughout Phoenix.

“Piano Bench” revisits the electrical pulse introduced on “Sunrise”, and takes a step further into Bazan’s Sunday reflections as a disguised hymn. “Circle K” uncovers a skateboard wanting Bazan and an allowance spent on sugary gratifications. The apparently inward realization Bazan sings, “half a mile ascribed my yellow bike, all the candy and soda pop I like”, reaches metaphorically outward.

Bazan’s youth-filled reflections paste a chronology where he’s no longer feeling sorry for himself. “Quietest Friend” soars with Bazan’s self-awareness and self-knowledge. “Tracing the Grid” spills into glimpses and meditative sustains. Bazan sings “I never dreamed that I would find another way home…someone is calling me…someone is following…someone is finally listening.”

The uproarious, bullet train hustle on “My Phoenix” encapsulates Bazan’s power and lyrical gifts. With the backing band locked in, Bazan’s authentic, captivating anthem is rife with powerful Biblical lead-ins and raw emotion. Flirting with a quasi-dronescape, “All Seeing Eye” washes Phoenix in sepia tones, highlighting a photo album with grainy images. The finale, “Leaving the Valley”, is instantly somber, despite the rock band elements. Bazan asks a wheelbarrow of questions taking listeners along, U-Haul strapped behind. The final two minutes veer dissonant and Bazan’s voice exits with an artful smirk.

Bazan’s Assemblies of God background has always made for a difficult clean up. But for the first time, he doesn’t sound like he’s running from it; rather letting it rest where it is. The ordinary still receives the extraordinary and Bazan’s autobiographical leanings on Phoenix are magnetically cathartic. His knack for surprising listeners with realistic grief and dry humor as he works the kinks out towards an existential resolve show him unafraid and invigorated, even if he gets it all wrong.

(Check out ‘Phoenix’ below via Bandcamp and get more info about Pedro The Lion HERE.)