Review: Pedro The Lion’s Phoenix has everything that makes them a cult classic

David Bazan has revived the band for their first album in 15 years, and it's full of affecting personal-yet-relatable narrative songs


Rating: NNNN


It’s been 15 years since Seattle’s Pedro the Lion released a full-length record. The band is the brainchild of David Bazan, a notoriously affecting songwriter with a predilection for personalized narration. With the obviously titled Phoenix, Bazan’s revival of Pedro the Lion is characterized by what has made the band a cult classic of sorts: a gentle, generous dive into the past, which translates hauntingly into the future.

The record opens with Sunrise, a short instrumental with a simple melody echoed on mid-album cut Piano Bench. The opener sets the tone texturally, even temporally, with gauzy 80s film score synths, before bleeding into Yellow Bike, an anthemic, yearning track that recalls the possibility and promise of Bazan’s first bike ride. “I remember what it was like, astride my yellow bike / First freedom, second life,” he sings over chiming guitar and churning rhythm on a chorus that closes with a touching proposition: “My kingdom for someone to ride with.”

The album alternates handily between hardy, rumbling guitar-focused tracks like Powerful Taboo and My Phoenix and the dark, pillowy emo of Model Homes and Circle K, the latter of which finds a young Bazan counting up how much he’s saved for a new skateboard only to discover he’s spent it all on snacks at the titular convenience store. Like Yellow Bike, it’s about childhood, and the narrative is broadly relatable. Though personal, these are like allegories for our adult lives, where we scrape by to make rent instead of buying a skateboard and we frantically chase another taste of excitement like we had on our first bike.

The appeal of Bazan’s writing is that it doesn’t say this to us, or even hint at it. These aren’t veiled or calculated stories, but rather honest retellings of origin points that continue to spool out for the remainder of our lives. It’s characterized by both futile resignation and hopeful nostalgia. That’s a generous way to write, and Phoenix stands as a complex, giving record backed by some of Pedro the Lion’s finest musical compositions.

Top track: Yellow Bike

Pedro the Lion plays Lee’s Palace on May 13. See listing.

@nowtoronto | @lukeottenhof

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