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Vanguard: Pedro the Lion - Achilles Heel
By S. Zekovitch

Pedro the Lion is a plethora of perfectionism seamlessly stitched into a patchwork of  art. As  David Bazan’s surface is  perforated with raw emotions and tightly gripped tension flooding his very existence, he directly applies this puissant creativity towards every angle of his pieces . In doing so, this moxie is evidence of his role as the engine behind Pedro the Lion. With that being said, that is why he, in my opinion is one of the most compelling songwriters of today. Even though his voice is unrelentingly monotone, you can’t help but want to auscultate what his droning voice has to say. Well that was my impression when I had first listened to Pedro the Lion’s very first debut  back in ‘97  titled  Whole EP, which I found to be a very thought provoking album. 

There were some religious references that pointed out the inner turmoil Bazan faced with his convictions, in which he was debating whether to do away with religion altogether or stick to his roots. Whereas other moments  he were plotting a facetious act for the sake of sarcasm. But often you wonder how does the guy stay sane in a somewhat scrutinizing society?  In all honesty here you have a great specimen that demonstrates how one can possess such strong convictions and not label everything he does as being Christian. Bazan’s faith naturally permeates through their material, without making it an issue of propaganda, which makes them stand out from the rest of the  flock in the same genre.

Often there are specific types of food that can only be fully enjoyed with an acquired taste, which I believe also applies with this type of music. As I had mentioned before his voice is incredibly insipid, perhaps even torturous to the point of no return. As much as I wanted to embrace his words it took a while for me to adjust to Bazan’s voice. In the beginning it was so irritating that I constantly felt both mentally and physically constipated at times, gradually the music began to sink into my veins and more appreciation for his voice sweetly blossomed. 

As  the music echoed  through the halls, I then began to realize he sang the way he did to compliment his lyrics suggesting, a  mournful individual who was there to tell of his stories, reflecting upon an epic in which was of his own design. Somewhat nostalgic of Homer’s Illiad in a sense because of the tragedies that followed in the shadows of each and every character that helped weave the unforgettable web of memories latched to every accounted event. Which also led me to believe their choice of title for this album. As I recalled  in the Illiad, Achilles was the son of the mortal Peleus and the Nereid Thetis. After the birth of Achilles, his mother desperately desired her child to be  immortal, in  doing so she  held the young Achilles by the heel and dipped him in the river of Styx. According to legend anything that touched the sacred water instantly became invulnerable, unfortunately for Achilles his mother forgot to dip his heel, leaving it as his sole weakness. Prophesied that Troy could never be vanquished without his help. As a result of  his mother distress over the foretold  premature death of her beloved son, it left her no choice, but to place him in the court of Lycomedes in Scyros disguised as a little girl in hopes he would never be found. Unfortunately, the brilliant Odysseus uncovers Achilles disguise and  wins over his aide. It was after the death of Patroclus, Achilles close friend was killed and stripped of his armor under mistaken identities, which lit the fuse to the cannon. Enraged with turbulent animosity he vowed to desecrate the body of his foes. In the end he got his revenge, but as the oracle unfolded the predicament always followed, with Priam’s son, Paris (guided by Apollo) struck a bow at Achille’s heel, which would succumb to his end. Even after his death his legacy remained untarnished as Homer’s hero of the Illiad. Therefore, leaving me to believe that Bazan wanted to remind us that everyone has a weakness, including epic heroes.

Achilles Heel still maintains the elements of Pedro the Lion's typical simplistic style of wry allegories sprinkled with a dash of macabre humor. Unlike their previous album the sentence structure appears to be much longer than usual, but the way he fractures them is what astounds me most. It’s a very well known concept that most pop music consists of repetitive refrains, which is the pivotal ingredient for a catchy song. However, Bazan’s works rarely ever possess this characteristic and in doing so his lyrics are strong enough to stand on their own.

For instance, "Discretion" is a story of a patricide while "Transcontinental" dictates  the final moments of a man being dismembered by a train. In a first person account, he vividly paints a very agonizing image of his dignity and pride dangling on the string of fate: “I remember, as I bleed, certain tails of bravery/ A man whose legs were crushed beneath a fallen evergreen tree/ He decided he would chop them off above the knee/ Sacrificing shins and feet, to make his torso free”. On another note, in the sixteenth century, a man by the name of Thomas Moore wrote of an imaginary island in which he named after the Greek word for “nowhere”. And from then on this imaginary island would be known as Utopia. However, this so-called “perfect society” would draw criticism from the great Karl Marx later on. Marx found fault in Moore’s depiction of this great society because there were no scientific explanations to support his ideas. And so from there on spawned the birth of the “Communist Manifesto” where Marx and Freidrich Engles would supply Moore’s society with an in-depth explanation. Ironically Marx’s vision of a communistic society and his ideologies would greatly differ that of its practicality. Proving that the ideal egalitarianism will never exist universally nor end mankind’s dread, which I believe is what had inspired Bazan to write “A Simple Plan”.

In conclusion, this album was as thought  provoking as the their prior album releases, keeping a lot of the old elements that helped mold PTL. I also developed a lot of respect for David Bazan because the ever changing lineup and that Bazan is the only original member in the band. After the departure of all the members Bazan has single handedly kept the band’s name afloat by recording and producing most of the material  himself. That’s what I call a dedicated musician. Overall the album was pretty good, like always his sincerity shines through his material. He’s not out there to impress his listeners with catchy tunes nor conform his listeners with his convictions. As a writer he writes to tell a story. A Story that will open your eyes to a different tune. He writes from his heart and breathes his thoughts into your ears. He is a storyteller. Although, whether you could tolerate his voice is another story, but it’s a pretty inspirational album if you ask me.
 



CD Info 

Pedro the Lion - Achilles Heel
Label: Jade Tree Records
 
Tracks:
Bands With Managers
Foregone Conclusions
Fleecing, The
Discretion
Arizona
Keep Swinging
Transcontinental
I Do
Simple Plan, A
Start Without Me
Poison, The
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