REVIEW: Pedro the Lion: It's Hard to Find a Friend
Pedro the Lion: It's Hard to Find a Friend (Made in Mexico, 1998)
I have bad music intuition.
For years, I ignored Mogwai. In my messed up, gobbledygook brain, I kept confusing them with Fugazi, and although I downloaded a song or two, I must have grabbed the wrong songs, or been in the wrong mood, or something. Fugazi's not my kind of thing, you see, so I wrote Mogazi, Fugwai - whatever! - off.
And then in April of this year, I gave Rock Action a listen, and I was gobsmacked. The band was amazing. I went on a Mogwai binge, getting my hands on everything I could, making up for nineteen years of ignorance. Mogwai is the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas. They are an awesome band.
And you know what? So is Pedro the Lion.
Like Mogwai, I had heard a few tracks then thrown them in the "stay away!" bin. Unlike Mogwai, I did it because I had read that Pedro the Lion was "Christian," and alarm bells went off at the thought that I was being sublimally influenced.
Boy was I wrong.
After recently deciding to give David "Pedro the Lion" Bazan a second chance, I have been absolutely, positively blown away. Dave's Christian, but he's hardly proselytizing. Occasionally his songs discuss faith, but they don't just whine (Neutral Milk Hotel-style) about Jesus Christ. No-sir. Bazan is merely telling his stories, looking inside himself, singing from the heart about life, loss, and occasional spiritual doubt. He's not Christ-rock. He's simply an honest songwriter.
It's also not a "rock" band. Although Bazan sticks more to electric than to acoustic, the songs all shuffle along at an Elliott Smith pace. Drums, twang and some guitar backup lend it an indie tone, and the rest is simply the work of Bazan's remarkable voice. He sings beautifully, catching all the right notes, careening down chords, his voice carrying just the correct measure of scratchy urgency.
What's most glorious about Pedro the Lion (besides the stand-out lyrics) are the melodies. I don't know if it's just me, but Bazan's chord progressions and tonal choices truly resonate. So many of the songs sound so good to my ear. From the opening, plaintive "Sunken ships rest/Upon the ocean floor..." of "Up and Coming Monarchs" (a song of draft-dodging and Canada... well, sort of), to the childish "Dad dad!" on "Big Trucks" to the driving, almost Mogwai-esque guitar part on "Secret of the Easy Yoke", everything is magic. It's rare for me to find a singer-songwriter album where I can so consistently relish the musical choices.
And then there are the lyrics. What initially got me to give Pedro another chance was when a friend of mine ICQ'ed me an MP3 of the compactly-titled "When They Really Get To Know You They Will Run." If you're looking for a taste of Bazan, this is the one to steal, if only because of its relentless good humour, it's sweet, sweet melody, and the groovy, ironic, harmonized chorus.
"Put on whatever makes you attractive / It's not you, but do it for the sake of fashion. / Your friends like a certain you / That's who you've got to be."
It's basically a song about girls shaving their legs, about "husbands in winter" who know the truth, about the absurdity of our standards of beauty, and the mournful boys who help to sustain it. It's freakin' fantastic.
Not all of the album is so upbeat and quirky. "The Longer I Lay Here" is a call for help reminiscent of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah", "Secret of the Easy Yoke" is an unflinching look at the coldness of a church. None of these songs, however, carry the listener into the realm of Bright Eyes-style depression. Each is intelligent and awake, not simply a weeping-into-the-pillow.
It's Hard to Find a Friend is a terrific, eye-opening album, one that carries the crunch of a good singer-songwriter withouy the burdensome whingeing or pondersome strumming. It's got drums, it's got hope, and it's got beauty.