Pedro the Lion
Santa Cruz


3.5
great

Review

by YoYoMancuso STAFF
June 11th, 2024 | 17 replies


Release Date: 05/07/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "Just hit it all back, don't attack / they'll make mistakes and start questioning everything."

David Bazan has been consistently outspoken about his aggrieved relationship with and subsequent separation from American Christianity. Outside of the confines of his musical output, particularly within the last decade, Bazan has publicly walked the internally suffocating path of no longer living life within the religion, while bearing witness to the corruption of many of his childhood touchstones by political grifters, as well as the allegiance of many of his friends and neighbors rapidly shifting from God to power. While Bazan’s cynicism towards the political process has been on display since 2000’s superlative Winners Never Quit, he has mostly remained content to discuss these themes through third-person narratives and broad conceptual frameworks. Since Pedro the Lion’s reunion, however, this formula has been turned completely on its head by a planned five-album cycle that aims to chronicle Bazan’s entire childhood experience, using each major location he grew up in as a thematic North Star. The previous two offerings in this cycle, 2019’s Phoenix and 2022’s Havasu, had plenty to say regarding spirituality, self-worth, and loss of innocence, but Santa Cruz presents itself as a whole different lyrical animal by going straight for the throat, and explicitly detailing Bazan’s initial struggles with religion in his teenage years.

As with the vast majority of Bazan’s creative output, Santa Cruz is narratively spellbinding, and masterful at steadily ratcheting up the stakes as young David’s cognitive dissonance becomes more and more pronounced throughout the album’s runtime. The record’s somber opening number, “It’ll All Work Out”, reads like a prayer that would seem unimaginably foreign to American evangelicals today, its narrator bowing before his God to ask for a selfless, friendly spirit to more effectively reach out to those in need. As he enters his new school with his head down on the rollicking title track, he begins to notice that hiding beneath his embarrassing bright green backpack won’t quite be enough to shield him from all the different perspectives that aim to threaten his worldview, even from other friends who he meets at church and appear to believe all the “right things”. What is truly pitch perfect about Santa Cruz, and Bazan’s writing style in general, is his refusal to frame his questioning of his upbringing as any sort of victory or significant acquisition of freedom. If anything, Bazan finds himself feeling even more imprisoned as he enters his college years and truly begins to think for himself. Listeners are given a front row seat as he recounts himself lying to his relatives about what he’s doing with his life on “Spend Time”, realizing that the church’s militant beliefs about sex have given it mastery over him on the title track and “Tall Pines”, and reflecting on how the promise of religious community has actually resulted in the loneliest decade of his life on gutting closer “Only Yesterday”.

This crisis is an important one to document, especially given the environment that many American teenagers are growing up in today, and it could have shaped up to be one of the best albums of the year if its musical presentation matched its lyrical fervor. Its instrumental identity primarily revolves around glacial keyboard tones and slow tempos that occasionally border into agonizing territory. The songs that wear this identity most successfully are those that are able to put positive spins on its barebones formula, such as the title track with its highly energized and memorable chorus, “Little Help” with its shapeshifting structure and cascading arpeggios, and the captivating emotional arc of late album highlight “Parting”. Other tracks rely too heavily on the cold and uninviting keyboards to effectively draw in the listener, such as the disappointing “Don’t Cry Now”, while single “Modesto”’s ill-advised key change and country-adjacent leanings swing and miss where the equally adventurous “Little Help” hits a home run. Regrettably, a few too many musical missteps prevent Santa Cruz from being a truly great album, although I still recommend giving it a listen. For those familiar with Bazan’s style and catalog, it will represent another instance of success from a tremendously gifted songwriter, while those dipping their toes into his work for the first time may find themselves alienated. Regardless, anyone can find at least one powerful story or memorable moment to latch onto here, and for those who may need Santa Cruz more than others at this point in time, the attachment could end up being lifelong.



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user ratings (26)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 11th 2024


19034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh you already KNOW we're waiting til marriage

ashcrash9
Contributing Reviewer
June 11th 2024


3359 Comments


excited to check. great review

theBoneyKing
June 11th 2024


24570 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review! Sadly I’m more lukewarm on this, I do like the bookends, “Modesto”, and “Don’t Cry Now” a lot but most of the rest isn’t doing much for me. IMO this very literal autobiographical style is wearing thin especially since the melodies and instrumentation are often rather lackluster. If that sounds a bit harsh for a 3 it’s because pretty much every song does have some bits I like but many of them don’t really work on the whole, and the highlights are spread evenly enough throughout the relatively short runtime to keep any section from getting too dull. Can’t say I’m too excited for two more albums in this vein though…

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 11th 2024


19034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

understandable, i think the thematic material on this album in particular makes it more engaging, but five straight albums of this will definitely get stale

hel9000
June 12th 2024


1568 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review. For a long time I'd only heard Control but lately I've been going through the early stuff and really liking it, his first solo album is great too. Seeing him at the end of the month so will give this a few spins.

theBoneyKing
June 12th 2024


24570 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I guess I'll give it another couple spins with the theme in mind because I hadn't quite caught on to that aside from a few tracks. Tbh though I almost feel Bazan should have used a different moniker (even just his name) for this series, it doesn't really feel of a piece with the original Pedro run.

Shamus248
Contributing Reviewer
June 12th 2024


1008 Comments


My friend Danielle Durack is opening for this band this summer

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2024


19034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

way to go Danielle!

bloc
June 12th 2024


70400 Comments


This sucks

Shamus248
Contributing Reviewer
June 12th 2024


1008 Comments


Her album Escape Artist is my AOTY

i should also say 'friend' is used loosely but i did reach out on IG to tell her i love the album and she gave me detailed responses and gave me a follow, so i frequently interact with her content and she usually replies C:

rufinthefury
June 12th 2024


4009 Comments


oh fuck I never even listened to the album before this, time to catch up. I loved Phoenix when it came out

oWhoadYo
June 13th 2024


2418 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i think its great

castleberry
June 19th 2024


17 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Some of the tie-ins to the previous records hit me in a good way. 100% this came out in a moment where I needed it and for that it hits the dots. Still in a honeymoon phase with it at the moment, feel like Modesto is the only track I skip.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
June 19th 2024


19034 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

agreed castle, modesto is a slog. the title track is still stuck in my head over a week after posting this review

ticklemeemo
June 21st 2024


35 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is the best Bazan I've head since Achilles Heel. I definitely need to revisit his solo stuff and actually listen to Havasu. I love Modesto--especially the bombastic end. Each to their own...

hel9000
June 22nd 2024


1568 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Enjoyed this. Phoenix was really nice too.

oWhoadYo
June 25th 2024


2418 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I agree, Modesto is the only song thats truly skippable on this record. Of his latest three records I'd rank them as

1. Phoenix

2. Santa Cruz

3. Havasu



But all three are great, imo. I'm seeing them on their tour this weekend in Toronto, can't wait



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