Pedro the Lion

It's Hard to Find a Friend (Jade Tree)

There's something immediately arresting about David Bazan's vocals, though nothing particularly dramatic is going on. His words are almost always delivered in a slow, off-hand lope. Bazan sounds somewhat congested, as if he barely has the strength to form the words and tap out a somnolent rhythm with one drumstick. Nevertheless, the songs are striking, intimate and natural-sounding. It's as if Bazan -- who by himself more or less makes up Pedro the Lion -- is someone you've known forever, and he's quietly telling you stories.

It's Hard to Find a Friend was originally released in 1998 by Made in Mexico Records, hailed that year by Spin as one of the "Best Records You Never Heard." Remixed, remastered and rereleased by Jade Tree, the record still shines, perhaps more than ever. On the second song, "The Longer I Lay Here," with its reverb peaks and troughs, taller and deeper than the waves in A Perfect Storm, Bazan smokily oozes: "I would like to be you/Just for a few habit-forming years." On "Big Trucks," a bouncier, almost stream-of-consciousness ramble, he sings of being admonished by his dad for trying to pass tractor trailers in his '87 Trans Am. Lighter songs are rare: The album practically drips with gloom and sadness, like those of Joseph Arthur and Nick Drake. But there's nothing about Bazan that gives you that suicidal vibe. He seems able to be sad without despairing.

Maybe it's the Jesus thing. That's something else surprising about Bazan: He's a Christian, though you'd never guess it, even after repeat listens. Unlike some artists of faith who feel compelled to load up their music with beliefs, Pedro the Lion's approach is decidedly -- thankfully -- lo-fi. In the end, he creates songs that don't alienate anyone, not even the damned.

 
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