It’s been 15 years since David Bazan and Pedro the Lion released an album, and their latest, Phoenix, sees them unspectacularly step back onto the music scene. It’s an album that has plenty of potential, but it seems Bazan has stuck with what he knows here. While each lyric tells part of a greater story, the musical aspects of each song fall short of the mark, leaving us feeling disappointed.
After the atmospheric introduction of ‘Sunrise’, the relaxed nature of ‘Yellow Bike’ is a bit of a shock. The “back to basics” guitar tone goes a long way to compliment Bazan’s voice but do nothing to excite the listener. ‘Yellow Bike’ takes a while to get to the point but when it finally does, its message is heart-warming. It seems Pedro the Lion have a knack for writing feel-good songs, something that is also heard in the catchy but repetitive ‘Clean Up’.
Coupling the echoing reverb of the snare with a bright, clean guitar tone, ‘Model Homes’ puts emphasis on the power in Bazan’s vocal. Pedro the Lion have created a sound that feels timeless: it’s humble and inspirational, if a little dull at times. Emotions flow in this tune, telling stories of big dreams and honest emotions.
Following ‘Model Homes’ is the Cash-esque short track, ‘Piano Bench’. This is a slow filler track that surprisingly overshadows the majority of Phoenix; each element is simple and perfectly balanced, creating something stunning.
There are hints of experimentation within ‘Quietest Friend’, prompting thoughts of Pedro’s more exciting 2004 album, Achilles’ Heel. ‘Quietest Friend’ is snappier than previous tracks and captures attention with the distorted electric guitars. The lyrics are bold and ensnared in mystery, the shrouded meaning doing well to draw focus to Bazan’s voice.
Continuing the theme of intrigue and emotion is ‘Black Canyon’. This slows the album’s pace considerably, perfectly broaching the sensitive subject of depression. Each element of ‘Black Canyon’ works perfectly to draw the listener in. Over the course of the song, the soft bass and guitar grow to a crescendo, and of the 13 songs Pedro the Lion has released, this is the most impactful; it leaves us with a lasting memory of Bazan’s clever words.
‘Leaving the Valley’ closes Phoenix with a six-minute-long salute to Bazan’s growth. There’s a familiarity about this song that immortalises memories, it’s heart-warming nature causing us to forgive the dullness of it. This coming-of-age tale swiftly takes a turn and the punchy drums give way to something marginally more experimental. The two halves of this song don’t quite fit together, but it is the perfect place to leave Phoenix. There are enough unanswered questions to leave the listener with.
While it’s great to see Pedro the Lion reclaiming both their name and their sound, we can’t help admitting that we hoped for something more. Phoenix is a lovely album with both harrowing and heart-warming themes. Unfortunately, there’s been no obvious growth or change in the 15 years of absence, leaving us feeling a little let down.
Phoenix is released January 18th