Pedro the Lion
Phoenix


4.0
excellent

Review

by BlushfulHippocrene CONTRIBUTOR (28 Reviews)
January 25th, 2019 | 44 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Anecdotes cannot say what Time may do

When I was ten, I was convinced of The Script’s genius. A grade five teacher of mine had proclaimed his love for the Irish trio’s ‘Breakeven’, though it was ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’ that stirred within me that inexplicable feeling. Of admiration, I suppose. (I’d later adorn an uncomfortable blue shawl in some vain attempt at emulating the band’s ever-handsome frontman.) Though also of empathy – for the titular man, and his unfortunate situation.

For those unfamiliar, the song details the adventures of a man who sits in wait for his ex-lover, on the corner of the street on which the two first met. It’s dumb. At several points throughout his self-imposed homelessness, members of the public attempt to hand him change. His response" “Oh, I’m not broke, I’m just a broken-hearted man.” Despite its thoughtless, overwrought attempt at narrative, however, the song was a considerable success. For whatever reason, its tale of heartbreak and despair resonated with me, and, according to its internet status, hundreds of millions of others.

Years earlier, in 2002, Pedro the Lion attempted something similar. Control was an album’s worth of narrative. Over the course of its ten tracks, mastermind David Bazan set the sacrilegious collapse of a marriage – first adulterous, then murderous – atop Death Cab for Cutie era indie rock, albeit with a darker, headier spin. (Given the current state of things, an “emo” descriptor wouldn’t be too out of place.) It’s been a decade and a half, though, since Pedro the Lion’s last, Achilles’ Heel, and were it not for the fact that Bazan’s released a considerable amount of music since, one would be forgiven for assuming the title of Phoenix a tad obvious.

As opposed to some declaration, however (“here we are, risen from out the ashes of a band in its prime!”), Phoenix is rather literal, referring to the southwestern capital in which Bazan grew up. As can be expected, then, Phoenix is an album of anecdotes, of introspection and rumination on childhood – its profound sense of wonder and the uncomfortable nature of its horrors. The album’s first is found on ‘Yellow Bike’, in the form of a child receiving his first bike at the dawn of his fifth desert Christmas. As an adult, having “traded in his handlebars” for the luxuries of “vans and rental cars”, the protagonist thinks back to that moment, as well as forward to his finding of “someone to ride with”. Overdone as it is, the road is as effective a metaphor as one could hope, for life and its transitions.

‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’, of course, with its street corner setting, represented something of a crossroads for its character. Or, perhaps, one of stagnation. Its ties to Phoenix, then, an album on the move, is a bit superficial. There is one song, however, on the album’s back-end, that made me think of The Script’s opus. Similar to ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’, ‘Black Canyon’ spins a tale of heartbreak:

Just after midnight, Black Canyon Freeway
A man, when he could no longer deal
Stepped in front of eighteen wheels


Bazan goes on to describe the experiences of an uncle, a first responder at the scene of the incident. What follows is a beautiful sequence of events, in which several characters communicate with the corpse. One such character is a female fire engine driver, who “against her better judgement, all her training and her plan, / [recognises] in those pieces a broken-hearted man”. Now, I think ‘Black Canyon’ is quite a bit more sophisticated than ‘The Man Who Can’t Be Moved’. Whereas the latter is shallow and self-aggrandising, equating in some sense the plight of homelessness to the hurt of being ghosted, Pedro the Lion’s masterpiece is sensitive and heartfelt. But at their core is something common, empathetic: a willingness and desire to, through narrative, real or imagined, understand the suffering of another.

That Phoenix’s emphasis is on that of the anecdotal does, perhaps, lend it some credence. A lot of the time, Bazan speaks from experience. On ‘Quietest Friend’, he laments his unwitting torture of an old schoolfriend into adulthood. ‘Circle K’, on the other hand, treats with no less seriousness his child self’s mistake of spending the allowance he’d saved for a Santa Cruz skateboard on useless items at the titular convenience store. On both these, and much of the rest of the album, Bazan’s voice falls with a heaviness that matches that of his own words. As do the instrumentals, which are delivered hand-in-hand with the album’s narratives. Often, the structures themselves are simple. Like on Pedro the Lion’s oldest work, the drum and bass grooves provide the foundation upon which the guitars and vocals dance. On occasion, though, the lead guitar lends dissonant squeals in response to a narrative detail, or to emphasise the song’s emotional pull.

Again, were it not for Bazan’s solo and collaborative work since Pedro the Lion’s 2004 disintegration, it’d be safe to assume that the title of Phoenix were illustrative of a band attempting to recapture what once made them great. To some extent, the band do succeed in doing this. But there’s something more here. As with Control, and much like the other work under the Headphones and Bazan names, Phoenix is an album that can be viewed as separate from the rest of the man’s catalogue. Despite a common creator, the projects’ intentions are far from uniform. And like with Control – or It’s Hard to Find a Friend before it, Curse Your Branches afterPhoenix is much more than what floats to its surface, and far greater than the sum of its parts. It's an album of stories.



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user ratings (57)
Chart.
3.5
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Comments:Add a Comment 
donttakeapicture
January 25th 2019


59 Comments


Glad someone finally reviewed this. Pedro The Lion is such a great band. Wish they got more love...

neekafat
January 25th 2019


14332 Comments


Guess I have to check this (;

Slex
January 25th 2019


5676 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Boring dinosaur rock with some towering standouts (Circle K is especially stunning)

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Cormano
January 25th 2019


1374 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

well blush you beat me to it



still glad though as you are one of my favorite writers on the site, one in which bazan doesnt get enough love and appreciation



album is incredible you guys listen to it

heyadam
January 25th 2019


2379 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Quietest Friend has such a catchy chorus — like yeah, musically this isn’t the most groundbreaking record, but it’s good to hear Bazan doing his thing again with a full band.

Digging: Copeland - Blushing

Dewinged
January 25th 2019


14482 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Not my cup of tea but goddamn Blush your analysis powers and unparalleled. Goes without saying, great review man.

Digging: Chasms - The Mirage

AsleepInTheBack
January 25th 2019


5917 Comments


Wonderful work mate, fantastic lyrical analysis

theBoneyKing
January 25th 2019


16043 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lovely review. Checked this out yesterday and really enjoyed it, first thing I’ve heard by them/him too so I guess I’m gonna have to do a discog run soon!

Digging: Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 25th 2019


29590 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I can relate about The Script. I loved their first album and some of their early songs are truly heartbreaking, although they're of course a joke now.



Excellent review as always, I'm going to want to listen to this again from a new angle.

Digging: Copeland - Blushing

McTime50
January 25th 2019


829 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Seriously good album

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mryrtmrnfoxxxy
January 25th 2019


14991 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thx

ThanksForBlanks
January 25th 2019


12 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This is very boring. I dunno maybe I wasn’t in the right mood. Seems very confessional and personal but it just flew over my head.

JohnnyoftheWell
January 25th 2019


12727 Comments


Some of the lyrics on this are lolworthy

BlushfulHippocrene
Contributing Reviewer
January 25th 2019


2765 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Haha interesting, like what for example? [:

Thanks for the kind comments, the music here is straightforward but Bazan is so damn good at what he does.

Digging: Wicca Phase Springs Eternal - Suffer On

Snake.
January 25th 2019


21400 Comments


sweet

JohnnyoftheWell
January 25th 2019


12727 Comments


Circle K was the most obvious example on a cursive first listen, but this was without much investment in the narrative or tone. I like your review and will see if this holds up better after a couple more listens


TheSupernatural
January 25th 2019


1812 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I think Second Best is the only Pedro the Lion song I've heard and I loved that but never gave the band a real listen. This sounds pretty interesting though, looks like I'll have to check it out

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 27th 2019


24331 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

soooooooooo hyped for this, will jam tonight

Conmaniac
Contributing Reviewer
January 28th 2019


24331 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

second half of this album is fantastic

theBoneyKing
January 28th 2019


16043 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah I'm loving this, can't believe I hadn't heard of this band before.



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