Music is a fickle mistress. One minute, you’re the darling of the critics and at the front of the kid’s minds. The next, you’re appearing on a Rhino compilation. And there are those things that are often mixed blessings. For example, the dreaded “you just recorded a perfect album and now you have to follow it with something even better” syndrome. Radiohead has it, thanks to OK Computer. According to some musicologists, the Beach Boys had it because of Pet Sounds. And I think it’s a well-known fact that Kevin Shields has a chronic case of it.
A little over a year ago, Pedro the Lion recorded a little album called It’s Hard to Find a Friend, fulfilling the promise only hinted at in their Tooth & Nail EP. It combined Bedhead-esque songwriting and a lo-fi warmth with incredibly honest and spiritually revealing lyrics. In a word, “perfect,” and it brought Pedro a lot of critical and popular acclaim.
When I heard about this, their latest release, I was filled with both elation and trepidation. I couldn’t wait to hear more, but I had this fear that it just wouldn’t measure up to songs like “Secret of the Easy Yoke” and “Bad Diary Days.” If you’re looking for a radical departure from form, you’ll be disappointed. Pedro the Lion’s songs seem like your standard indiepop; sparse production, simple rhythms and basslines, bittersweet melodies, and melancholy ruminations about life and love. But they practically drip with an intensity that would make most emo bands foam at the mouth.
When Bazan softly sings “I wouldn’t mind, but you are my only hope,” you get goosebumps because, honestly, how many times have you felt like that? With Pedro’s music, it’s all about the delivery. At times, the recording is a little muddy and the vocals are a little off, but it’s a testament to this band’s songs that their message comes through with honesty and conviction.
The album opens up with “Criticism as Inspiration,” where Bazan makes a scathing revelation:
It makes me feel so good to always tell you when you’re wrong
The big man that I am to always have to put you down
It makes me look so good to always put you in your place
I could write it in a song but never say it to your face
It’s even better when Bazan sings it, his voice barely holding together at times.
“Letter from a Concerned Follower” would be almost naïve, if it weren’t such an accurate depiction of many people’s ideas of Christianity in this modern world. Bazan sings “I hear that You don’t change/How do You expect to keep up with trends?/You won’t survive the information age/Unless You plan to change the truth to accommodate the brilliance of men.” It’s Pedro at their best, looking at a serious problem with an almost childlike naïveté that’s all the more poignant. “I’m just a little bit worried/Do You have some sort of plan?/Have You been finally defeated/By the cunning of these fully evolved men?”
With those lyrics in mind, it seems so very fitting that the closing song is “Be Thou My Vision.” It feels like someone forgot to turn off the recorder and we get to listen in on a private prayer between an ordinary man and his God.