Achilles' Heel, Pedro the Lion's fifth album, is a hallmark for the band, a culmination of their previous work, and -- upon its release -- their best album to date. Breaking down the linear narratives of The Only Reason I Feel Secure and Control into broader concepts and themes that rely far less on storytelling and more on topical personal politics turns out to be a winning approach. Walking through the emotional fray of America's suburban ennui, David Bazan and company have built a beautiful and wavering mix of indie rock and country-folk. Ester Drang keyboardist James McAlister is a shining addition to Bazan and longtime contributor T.W. Walsh, adding a syrupy keyboard undercurrent to contrast Bazan's longing melodies and lyrics -- and the guitar work reaches new levels of uncharacteristic gritty rock on the venomous "Keep Swinging" (don't expect it for more than one track, though). With some of the best songs of the band's career -- the classic, simple, country-tinged "Foregone Conclusions" and the lush, soaring "The Fleecing," for example -- Pedro the Lion cast themselves as a Neil Young for the tract homes and convenience stores, a middle-class hero for those caught in the mundane space between the McMansions and the nine-to-five grind. Bazan is a master of this stuff, delving through the routine and ordinary for every drop of melancholy and poetry. While lilting and humorless (don't expect anything as fun as the Darkness here), these songs are like literature set to music, the indie rock counterpart to a novel like A.M. Homes' The Safety of Objects -- maybe a little tough to swallow or make it all the way through, but brilliantly rendered nonetheless.
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AllMusic Review by Charles Spano