Pedro the Lion
It’s Hard to Find a Friend
(Made in Mexico)
If the Red House Painters’ Mark Kozlik fronted Built to Spill, you might get something along the lines of Pedro the Lion. Begun in 1996 by David Bazan, Pedro are neither as melancholy (and potentially boring) as Red House Painters, nor are they as consistently on the verge of royalty as Built to Spill, but the middle ground is pleasant and quite satisfying to listen to. Recorded, one can assume, in Bazan’s living room over a period of no more than a few drizzly, Northwestern days, It’s Hard to Find a Friend kind of seems like one—the friend who’s more like a diary or a mirror than a person. Bazan, it seems, has taken every thought, dream, desire and fear you’ve ever had and either documented and embellished it with his own analysis, or reflected it back at you with all the kindness of stainless steel on a bright summer day. And with friends like that, who needs other friends?
Simple, bombastic rhythms that border on slo-core supermodels like Smog and Silver Jews, along with molasses-thick, first-position chording and beautifully lackadaisical vocal melodies make for a delicious bed of dead leaves to roll in. Bazan’s lyrics sound like most were written while entangled in any number of boring, ’round-the-house chores that are just mundane enough to inspire flashes of brilliance and/or suicide notes.
Spontaneous without sounding accidental, Bazan’s songs drift in and out of consciousness at your will, yet there always seems to be some not entirely unpredictable bridge or melodic hook around the corner to snap your brain back into the record. Even the songs that lean toward the painfully slow (“The Longer I Lay Here,” “The Bells”) linger like the scent of flowers recently wilted, rather than drone on for minutes beyond their effectiveness. If Bazan were consciously aware of his ability to rein in his own mood swings and make perfect pop delights out of them, he’d have made a very different record. Thankfully for us, his ignorance (that is to say that he writes by feel rather than from formula) is our bliss.
Roky Erickson Never Say Goodbye (Emperor Jones)
Of all the surviving drug culture casualties of the ’60s, none has received more posthumous sympathy than Austin music legend and psychedelic rock architect Roky Erickson. Well deserved as the humanitarian efforts put forth by King Coffey, Charlie Sexton, Henry Rollins and others to help keep Erickson stable, his music alive and his scattered poetry available, it’s still no stretch to say that 51-year-old former leader of the legendary 13th Floor Elevators is living proof that acid maybe wasn’t such a good idea.
Although some would argue differently, the once-brilliant songwriter and one of the best rock ’n’ roll singers of his generation has been reduced to a caricature of his former self since the mid-’70s. Coherent enough to live on his own (with a little help from his friends), accept visitors, deny interviews and even record an occasional song—he made several solo recordings during the ’80s—Erickson’s legend began gaining momentum upon the release in 1990 of a tribute album titled Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye. In 1996, the famed and now defunct Austin label Trance Syndicate released All That May Do My Rhyme, a stunning studio effort and Erickson’s first collection of new recordings in more than a decade.
Never Say Goodbye is the latest collection of Erickson’s songs, 14 never-before heard tracks recorded in the early to mid-’70s, some while incarcerated at the Rusk State Hospital in Rusk, Texas, and others while at home following his release. The tracks were unearthed four years ago in the midst of research for a book of Erickson’s lyrics called Openers II (available from Rollins’ 2.13.61 Press). The record is as “lo-fi” as an album can get, with some of the tracks so warbled that they’re barely listenable; still, though, these are songs written and performed by Erickson. Despite the inconsistent and relatively low quality of the recordings, the songs shine through, offering a glimpse of Erickson the songwriting genius before the motherboard turned on itself and the console went blank. A more heartfelt collection of bare bones emotion and reflective spirit you won’t find. Never Say Goodbye is the skeleton of the album Erickson’s friends and confidants sorely wish he could make again. And although that may not be in his future, the record allows disenfranchised fans and newcomers alike to glimpse Erickson’s rich musical mind and gaze long and thoughtfully into his brilliant past.