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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Pedro the Lion
Achilles Heel
Jade Tree Records

Rating: 5/10 ?


October 1, 2004
Pedro the Lion has been through a lot. Beginning as a children's book character of the same name, the project sprouted into a spindly, beautiful litany of indie-Christian Rock, presenting two well-received EPs before being largely broken in. From there, the wintry and inspired It's Hard to Find a Friend caught on well in college circles and propelled David Bazan to the forefront. His vein of Hayden, Galaxie 500 and straight-laced 90s indie pop capture hearts, as the murderous glint and powerful morality of Winners Never Quit tore at swelled heartstrings. Control bound him heavily to rock, more electric and visceral than we may have believed, and as challenging to his faith as any true believer could be. He is troubled, but he is afloat, with so many deep facets buoyed in strength of faith.

By title recognition, Achilles Heel suggests that his weaknesses have finally overpowered all promise, but in fact, it reminds us that on the whole Achilles Heel was marked by only one weakness in his continued strength. Still present are the personal and political subtexts so distinguishing his work, from the sexist reductions of "I Do" to the depressing, anti-familial look at Communism in "A Simple Plan"; each track provides brief glimpses at the darker tinges of society. While strikingly sharp, the record is not overdone by any means, and returns more to his naturally spare origins. It is more organic, less amplified, and characteristically biting and honest.

With a burnt and painful tone, one looks to find parallel in its most direct companion, It's Hard to Find a Friend, but there is a distinct difference between the two: Achilles Heel is not as concerned with accessibility, and as such, threatens to lose its audience while they wait for the inevitable hook that never drops. Many of the tracks sound like demos, achingly unfinished and in need of just a little something to make them whole. Without the hopefulness of "Big Trucks" and "A Promise" to provide humor and hope, Achilles Heel feels more bare, with deeper wounds and less fulfillment. Many cuts seem empty or incomplete, but in perspective, their stinging, blank quality works with the tone of the album. There are no easy answers: while some tracks are blessed with a flighty, jangle-pop feel that alleviates the mood on first contact, the themes are often intense.

One assuredly gravitates toward the more upbeat offerings on the album. "A Simple Plan" is a standout track, jingling and danceable, and on par with his previous work. Its roaring momentum finally reveals the hook that had gone noticeably missing from most other tracks, and as such, by track nine, it feels like a long time coming. "Start Without Me" immediately follows, sustaining the momentary burst of poppy energy. It is lofty, with a discernable melody, and while still stark and mundane, it knows the limitations and best uses of the stripped down format. It could fit well on his initial Whole EP, with a down home feel and catchy chorus. One can't help but think he's learning some of these lessons a second time, and that applying his new knowledge with the old produces some growing pains.

Others are just as pleasant, but still elusive. "Foregone Conclusions" features bright percussion and a simple melody, looking to Springsteen for inspiration, but doesn't quite hit the mark. "The Fleecing" employs his familiarly repetitive, heartbeat-like guitars, but remains restrained to little effect. "Discretion" attempts to rock bitterly like an acoustic offering from Control, complete with a hollow and moving end, but would sound better if placed in that album's electric context.

On many of the tracks, I cannot help but picture myself in the audience, politely shuffling my feet and bobbing my head to the new material, but conspicuously waiting for the familiar, jangly sing-alongs to filter in. Achilles Heel is a subdued, markedly underdone affair, with a stiffness and discontent that never meets its breaking point. It seems an ill fit, somewhat out of place in his catalog.

From the stifled, off-kilter falsetto of "Bands with Managers" to the strange, labored harmonies, alt-country tinges and labored pace of "Keep Swinging" to the minimalist and heavy "The Poison", David Bazan is revisiting old forms and themes, inserting new techniques, and overall feeling less assured. Outside of a blanket catchiness, Achilles Heel is missing the infectious sense of confidence and conviction that made his former releases so strong.

For those of us who have enjoyed both his humbly lo-fi beginnings and his crunchy, weathered progress, Achilles Heel feels like the missing link between the jump. It is a half-step between bo/th types of expression, but fully suits neither. Pedro the Lion's releases were always so easily absorbed, able to make one's own. This latest endeavor is not so much disappointing as it is distant, but if it shows that he is trying to unify his past and present capabilities, then perhaps it is the brief learning curve before a striking breakthrough.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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