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Album Review: Phoenix by Pedro The Lion

15 years since the last release Pedro The Lion returns with Phoenix out on 18th January via Big Scary Monsters. Pedro the Lion has always been David Bazan, but it took a long time to get back there.

In August 2016, during what he now recognises as his lowest point, Bazan was touring the country alone in an aging minivan and found himself in his hometown of Phoenix, AZ. In need of a break from the road, he spent a night off at his grandparents’ house instead of driving on to San Diego. Before leaving town the next morning, after realising that even the most familiar places can become unrecognisable, Bazan gave himself the gift of a quick detour past the house he grew up in, and on the way, experienced a breakthrough – one that would lead him both forward and back to another home he had built many years before.

From the beginning, Pedro the Lion didn’t work like the bands Bazan had played drums in, where each player came up with their own parts. Instead, like scripting scenes of dialogue for actors to play with, Bazan recorded and arranged all of the skeletal accompaniments for his obsessively introspective lyrics and spare melodies.  Each player would then learn their parts and, together as a band, they brought the skeleton to life.  While bandmates played on a few recordings, Bazan often played all or most of the instruments himself.

“I found so much joy working this way,” Bazan remembers. “It came naturally and yielded a feeling and a sound that couldn’t have existed by any other process.  At the same time, I was also aware that not everyone wanted to play in a band where the singer wrote all the parts and might perform them on the record.  Someone even suggested it might not be a valid approach to having a band in the first place. Being insecure and wanting to find camaraderie, I became conflicted about my natural process.”

By 2002, after recording Control, the high rate of turnover in the band finally caused Bazan to ditch his “natural process” in favour of a collaborative writing process.  When, after a couple more years, this move did nothing to stabilise turnover, Bazan was perplexed.  In November 2005, Bazan decided to stop doing Pedro the Lion altogether.

It was in that low moment that triggered the return of Pedro The Lion and it shapes the album. It’s an emotive indie rock album that looks to the past to discover who you’ve become. It deals with bettering yourself and being a better person.

It’s a laidback album that on the surface doesn’t do a great deal. Take another listen and you’ll discover that somehow it has managed to seep into your subconscious and greets you like an old lost friend.

Tracks like ‘Clean Up’, ‘Model Homes’ and ‘Powerful Taboo’ blossom with each listen. Each time you put on Phoenix its impact increases and it slowly and surely becomes one of your favourite albums.

AD Rating 7/10

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