Under the Radar Love: Acoustic Music

brooke bates returns to drop some acoustically inclined knowledge…

Generally, I can’t stand slow, droning acoustic music. The one exception is Pedro the Lion, perhaps my favorite artist ever. David Bazan, the man behind the band, crafts simple minimalist rock around sly tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Some of his more upbeat songs are kind you’d hear in a cafe and bob your head (as opposed to bop, which is stronger). The more low-fi songs Pedro songs, though, make me yawn.

But he’s a storyteller who makes three-minute songs feel like little novels stuffed with commentary on faith, fidelity and politics. He won me over with his words, sharp and witty. Like this opening line to “Bad Things to Such Good People” : “My jail shoes on / the well-kept cemetery lawn / both of them weeping / their one good son now was gone.”

His music isn’t going to blow you away with anything intricate or fancy, but the melodies are catchy and the lyrics intriguing. You’ll be amazed at the statements Pedro can make with so few chords and such simple strums.

As an avid fan since Bazan became Pedro, I must mention the religious roots, which was how I discovered him– back in the day I listened to Christian rock. Early on, Bazan, the son of a Seattle Pentecostal church music director mentioned his roots in songs like “Suspect Fled the Scene,” where the suspect flees, obviously, “from this church town/where damning rumors drip/ from holy tongues.” But the references aren’t at all overwhelming; honestly, more of his songs are more about a cheating lover, with more sly images like, “A pair of ticket stubs in her desk – a movie I’d never seen./ I probably shouldn’t ask – it sounds so accusing,” from “Bad Diary Days,” both from 1998’s A Friend is Hard to Find.

While the infidelity issue did get a little overwhelming on 2002’s Control, Pedro lightened up a lot for Achilles’ Heel in 2004. Most noticeably: musically, as he picked up a synthesizer and pulled a Dylan. He started singing about murder plots gone afoul in “Discretion,” alcoholism (“pour and swallow/ follow one shot with another”) in “The Poison,” and accidental amputations that happen, painfully, in “Transcontinental” when “Engine severs lower legs/ … Spinal cord remains intact, still sending and receiving.”

In 2006, Bazan finally announced that Pedro — which was basically him and longtime collaborator TW Walsh, along with a varying lineup — had split. A couple years later, he started recording solo and with an
electronic side project called The Headphones.

Pedro to listen to:

“Big Trucks’

“When They Really Get To Know You, They Will Run”

“Transcontinental”

“Beer and Cigarettes” from solo EP Fewer Moving Parts.

Magnolia Electric Co.

 

Since I’m in the emo folk-rock genre and I wrote about Secretly Canadian bands last time, I have to bring up Magnolia Electric Co. Actually, it’s easy to compare Pedro to Jason Molina — a local boy from Lorain, Ohio. He played as Songs:Ohia, until 2003 when they released an album called Magnolia Electric Co.; that marked Molina’s move toward a heavier straightforward rock. He announced the band would take on the album’s name from soon after. So they both fronted multiple bands that were basically them and revolving collaborators before going solo. Ha.

Magnolia has that waning, mopey attitude like most Secretly Canadian bands, but spruced up with roots-rock vibes and folksy themes.

Also, as a side note, he has an obsession with the moon, which I love.

“Farewell Transmission,” featuring the alliteration-laden line, “Mama, here comes Midnight/ with the dead moon its jaws,” Lewis Carroll would be so proud.

“Lonesome Valley”

Vigilantes of Love

Further down the scale of country folksiness of bands carried by their frontman, Bill Mallonee, there’s Vigilantes of Love, a nod to “Love Vigilantes” by NewOrder.

 

Mallonee is a back porch musician to Bazan’s coffeeshop, if that makes sense; in other words, more folksy, tinged with country. And if VoL were a venue, I think they’d be someplace a tad artsier, like a small
theater.

Mallonee weaves in funky instruments like harmonicas, accordions, and other wailing things I can’t recognize. Then he’s got that thick, confident voice and sharp diction on top of it. Throw it all together and you get a rocking concoction of Americana, courtesy of indie-rock haven, Athens, Ga. Whereas I’d say Pedro and Magnolia are both notable for their lyrics more than anything, I think it’s Mallonee’s smooth, stretching voice that sets him apart.

“Nothing Like a Train”

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