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"I've made music under many brand names. It was a dumb idea," David Bazan jokes during his performance at the Tiny Desk, in his own particularly reflective and self-deprecating way. You can find that music filed under his previous "brands" or incarnations as Headphones, Lo Tom (with TW Walsh and members of Starflyer 59) and his own name. But here Bazan returns to the one that first gave him voice: Pedro the Lion, a name he now says he intends to keep.
No matter how dark or disastrous, there's always been an undercurrent of grace to the music of David Bazan. Even in his most righteous anger, empathy seeps through. "When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run" opens the Tiny Desk set with sparse instrumentation — Erik Walters on guitar, Bazan on bass, Sean Lane on brushes and snare — not unlike performances of yesteryear, when slyly clever-yet-quiet riffs put Bazan's sardonic wit front and center. Twenty years after being released on Pedro the Lion's debut album, It's Hard to Find a Friend, the cheeky song about hypocrisy (exposing the toxic male gaze through double standards of beauty) still rings painfully true.
Bazan then introduces "Yellow Bike," from Pedro the Lion's forthcoming Phoenix, as "cheeky in a different way." With a hiccuping rhythm that rolls like a Tom Petty joint down uncertain roads, Bazan recounts the thrill found in childhood bike rides, and the somewhat terrifying price of freedom that accompanies onset adulthood.
So what about all of those songs released as "David Bazan" from the past decade? Those are now Pedro the Lion songs! That includes "Kept Secrets," originally released on 2016's Blanco. Its slow, doleful sway closed out the Tiny Desk with a hidden hope washed in snow, "white with ocean foam."
Phoenix comes out Jan. 18 via Polyvinyl Records.
Producers: Lars Gotrich, Beck Harlan; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Khun Minn Ohn, Beck Harlan; Production Assistant: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR
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