Pedro the Lion’s “Phoenix” seems like a loose memoir in album form. Apparently the album arose from the time when David Bazan, the main songwriter, took a side trip to visit Phoenix and the home he grew up in. Actually, the album doesn’t feel as much like a memoir as it does like a semi-autobiographical novel, because there are other stories besides Bazan’s that come through in these songs (primarily about his family, on songs “Model Homes,” “Piano Bench,” “Circle K,” and “Leaving the Valley”). The album pulls out memories and anecdotes (“Black Canyon,” features ‘Uncle Ray’, a paramedic who responds to an attempted suicide-by-car on the Black Canyon Highway; it’s a chilling song and one of the best on the album) and details from the past to recreate a whole world that’s now gone.
The whole album’s vibe reminds me a little bit of the first few lines of Wilco’s “Misunderstood”: “When you’re back in your old neighborhood/the cigarettes taste so good/but you’re so misunderstood/so misunderstood/There’s something there that you can’t find…” It’s all burrowing into resurrected feelings, the thrill of being able to revisit these memories alongside the attendant sadness of summoning these details (sometimes at less than high fidelity) from a past that will never exist again.
“Yellow Bike” was the first single and it’s my favorite song on the album, a recollection by Bazan of receiving and learning to ride his first two-wheel bike. It’s high-energy nostalgia, with Bazan’s vocals sounding somehow celebratory and mournful at once. There is a pretty great moment 40 seconds into the song, when the other guitars kick in, that brings a rush to the song, a little simulation of tearing off down a hill on a one-speed bike.