Pedro the Lion – Phoenix

David Bazan returns to Pedro the Lion with a tender examination of the cyclical nature of our lives

Album Review by Fraser MacIntyre | 11 Jan 2019
  • Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
Album title: Phoenix
Artist: Pedro the Lion
Label: Big Scary Monsters / Polyvinyl Records
Release date: 18 Jan

David Bazan’s return to his most widely known creative outlet, to release their first record in 15 years, is far from a cynical retreat to better-paid pastures. Turning to the past to better understand the present on Phoenix – an invigorating and tender examination of the cyclical nature of our lives – Bazan is comforting and challenging as he welcomes back (rather than desperately trying to revive) an old friend many will be very glad to be reacquainted with: Pedro the Lion.

Refreshingly, Bazan only seems interested in turning his focus backwards in order to pinpoint how his band will move forward. While recently informing an approving Brooklyn crowd that he will no longer play fan-favourite Rapture, Bazan made clear his belief that the song, amongst others, contributed to toxic masculinity, and that it was "time to make a change." While Rapture offers the listener all the context they need to condemn Bazan’s contemptable protagonist (‘pity that it’s not my wife’), the stirring instrumental arguably romanticises his adultery, and Bazan’s unprovoked decision to move past this old triumph aligns with a desire for self-improvement found in Clean Up.

It's important to note that Bazan never preaches when he has insight to offer, and Circle K is an exquisite example of his ability to take a childhood memory and find lessons relevant to all ages within. In the song, his younger self dreams of a ‘Santa Cruz skateboard’, but every time he attempts to scrape together the necessary cash, he finds that his savings have slowly but surely depleted thanks to the allure (‘shelves bathed in the golden hour glow’) of convenience store treats. On the surface, Bazan has presented us with charming nostalgia. Underneath this, however, is a universal warning for all-ages: choosing temporary pleasure and losing sight of the eventual prize has consequences.

Yellow Bike draws a beautiful, moving parallel between the past and present as Bazan reveals a desire that has stretched from boy on bike to man in van: 'I’d trade my kingdom for someone to ride with'. His voice is simultaneously on the verge of cracking and pulling itself back together again throughout the record; there’s a little Owen Ashworth (Advance Base) and a little Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) in Bazan’s characteristically warm and achingly sincere delivery.

The turbulent, ethereal ambience of All Seeing Eye channels The Antlers, while elsewhere on the record driving basslines veer off in inspired, unexpected directions. Regret is, predictably, a concern of Bazan’s ‘hometown’ record (‘I traded my own wisdom for a jury of my peers’) but, once again, it's explored productively in order to provoke more empathy in the present.

Black Canyon examines the different ways in which we process trauma, through the experience of Bazan’s paramedic Uncle. Bazan’s wit and compassion shine throughout a dark voyage such as this; as one witness to a brutal suicide turns to black humour, while another, in contrast, valiantly tries to retain their emotional openness in a job that often requires distance.

Listen to: Yellow Bike, Black Canyon, All Seeing Eye