There's a certain kind of comfort found in the familiar, but the path there isn't always straightforward.
David Bazan's been reliably releasing music and touring under his own name for nearly a decade; his most recent record, Care, came out just last year. But before that, he was Pedro the Lion. He retired the name in November 2005, and after that, it felt off-limits: For Bazan, that designation belonged to a band, even if he was its only constant. Although Bazan was writer, arranger and principle player on the Pedro the Lion records, he performed with a full band on tour. His self-titled material, however – whether recent synth-based pop experiments or acoustic reflections on big-picture questions – was often played solo.
For both fans and Bazan himself, there was a sense of resolution in the reclamation and return to that name, which explains the excitement last year when he announced a handful of Pedro the Lion tour dates, then a full U.S. tour. And now, there's Phoenix, the first Pedro the Lion record in 15 years. Out January 18, Bazan recorded the album joined by Erik Walters on backing guitar and vocals and Sean Lane on drums.
"I'm drawing from all of the Pedro music tonally, and all of the Bazan music," Bazan told NPR's Sarah McCammon earlier this year when describing this new record. "Everything that I've done I feel like can come to bear on this Pedro record."
You can hear that hard-fought wisdom in "Yellow Bike," the first single from Phoenix. The song begins with Bazan recollecting a childhood Christmas scene in his warm, worn tone. The titular gift under the tree makes his heart race, a kick drum thump animating the excitement. Over insistent bass and ascending guitar, he connects those childhood bike rides to an adulthood on the road. Its lived-in video, rendered in washed colors and grainy textures, depicts that continuity.
Like much of Bazan's clear-eyed work, "Yellow Bike" reveals a duality. There's an obvious thrill that comes with the freedom an open road and a set of handlebars – or later, a steering wheel – can afford. But there's something intrinsically terrifying there, too. In Bazan's estimation, these explorations, from rides around his neighborhood to cross-country tours, are solitary. The "little ache inside," as he puts it, remains. But in that recognition, there's a sense of relief: The search doesn't stop, but there's a refinement of purpose in such realization.
Phoenix comes out Jan. 18 via Polyvinyl Records.