Thursday, October 21, 2004

Achilles Heel Pedro the Lion

Release Date: 25 May, 2004
Review Written: 4 Jul., 2004
Rating: 8.5

I’m 20 years old. In roughly a month I will be 21. Those numbers are staring me in the face and saying, “Michael, it’s time to grow up.” Growing up, or at least growing older, is a fact of life and it has to be dealt with in one way or another. How one deals with growing older correlates directly with one’s growing up.

I would argue that all of Pedro the Lion’s albums have been good. I am an unabashed fan - I admit it. Upon first listen, Achilles Heel was most obviously the weakest PtL album. It seemed as if helmsman, David Bazan, had lost it all – his voice, his songwriting talent, and his conviction. It was still OK listening, but nothing beyond that. So after the first spin, I spun it again. And again. And again. And again. And it grew on me.

Why? It’s common for an album, a film, a piece of artwork to have nil impact on first encounter and to later impact greatly, but this is a Pedro the Lion album. Without a doubt Pedro the Lion is my favorite band and I’ve been gushing over every preceding album on first listen. PtL is like a mother’s cooking – even when it isn’t good, at least it’s still comforting. But Achilles Heel was neither good nor comforting at first. Unlike the last two albums, it had no linear narrative. Unlike the ancestry of those albums, it had none of the inherent hope and belief. This album seemed like the product of a man broken. And then I got it. Bazan, I think, realized that life is not 3 minute clips of hope and belief, just like life is not always a harrowing fable of a husband cheating on, and then subsequently being killed by, his wife.

It’s now been 8 years since 1997’s Whole EP was released…what I’m getting at is this: this album is greatly different than previous PtL albums. Whereas 98’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend contained “Bad Diary Days”, a song about a girlfriend stepping out on her boyfriend, Achilles Heel contains “I Do”, which asks the question – if I could take back my marriage, would I? Both songs are heartbreaking and both are great songs. But they’re different. Bazan is growing older, and moreover, Bazan is growing up. He is now married and, whether autobiographical or not, he’s dealing with the subject of marriage. The lyrics don’t deal with the ephemeral pain of the transitory, but the lifelong pain that is intrinsic to humanity. It’s not about what you have lost, but what you’re missing. No longer is little David afraid of being left and losing what is familiar, he is now afraid of remaining static and becoming too comfortable in his discontent.

As far as the stick-it-in-the-player-and-turn-it-up factor goes: this album also marks a departure. Along with the lyrics, Bazan has stretched out musically. Recruiting help from fellow bard TW Walsh, Bazan has turned out songs that sound hasty upon first fresh-from-the-record-store-drive-home listen, but reveal their overwhelming competence upon further encounters. New to the oeuvre is the falsetto harmony. After I plugged in a good set of cans and sat down with the album I realized that said harmonies are ubiquitous. “The Fleecing”, “Keep Swinging”, “I Do” – all of them (and more!) sport ‘em. Along with the harmonies, there is general mood of the 30-Something. This seems to be in the same camp as Wilco, Nick Drake, and Josh Rouse – I could find myself listening to it when I am 30. It sounds crass to say something like that at the gray age of 20, but it’s a gauge I’m quite confident in. And it is meant as a sincere compliment; after all, if it can last ten years then it must have some importance.

Perhaps the best word to describe the aural maturation found on Achilles Heel would be patience. The songs sound less hurried and more focused upon the mimetic nature of man. By this I don’t mean that the songs are slower. In fact, the average BPM seems well above the usual Pedro quota. No, the songs are not slow, they just aren’t in rush – notes are dwelled on until they’re entirely finished, chorus’ are sung until the point hits home, and instrumentals are carried out into completion. As with the lyrics, Bazan is realizing that, although life is short, life is not hurried. It takes utter contemplation and patience to understand the world around you and, in turn, to deal with it. And you cannot be hurried in dealing with life, because life is never through with you.


Post a Comment

<< Home