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David Bazan (Pedro the Lion)

REVIEW: Pedro the Lion: Control
3.26.2002 by Sean

Pedro the Lion: Control [Jade Tree, 2002]

Two words? Raucous melancholia.

Pedro the Lion's follow-up to 2000's Winners Never Quit is melancholy, progressive, and, contrary to the habit of mopey singer-songwriters in the Damien Jurado vein, his guitars are most assuredly plugged in. To be fair, this seems to be the year of sad alt.folkers opting for electric guitar fangs: everyone from Damien Jurado to Hayden to the new, sensitive Frames is exploring the concept of rocking out to sniffly, rainy-day music. And it works.

Control is a ten-song cycle about a shaky, unhappy marriage. "I could never divorce you / Without a good reason," Bazan sings over up-and-down guitars and highhat-heavy drums on "Options". His voice is mellow and familiar, invested with a yearning that transcends its lazy consonants, the laid-back delivery. The song is a touch slow, never waking from its static slumber, but this matches the lyrics' feeling of stasis, cagedness. Any sleepiness is fully abated as "Rapture" begins with its screeching, crunchy guitars, skyrocketing synths. "Rapture" is perhaps the album's best song - an elegy to extramarital sex. The arching, chugging climax (pun intended) is indeed rapturous, as if lifting the listener into something Higher. The noise doesn't let up in the angry "Penetration", and here Pedro the Lion might almost be mistaken for a stripped-down And They Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead... As in the rest of the disc, Bazan's wordplay sells the song: poetry mingles with humour, pathos, and prayer.

Control is never really quiet. Even the ironically-named "Rejoice", with its choral bed and dark, empty strums, contains a layer of tension that threatens to build into rock frenzy. The relentlessness of the onslaught is exhausting, but here too it communicates the frustration of the narrator, the static in Bazan's head. Still, Pedro the Lion's best work has used an interplay of dynamics, a variety of lenses. As much as Control is a coherent concept album, its harping sameness is tiring, and rather than simply dismissing one gritty track when it grates on the nerves, the listener finds themselves dismissing the whole album. When you are in that rare melancholy mood when you don't mind being yelled at, Control is a work of art; otherwise, stay away: it's no good in batches.

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