David Bazan Comes of Age on Pedro the Lion’s Santa Cruz

The Seattle singer-songwriter’s latest autobiographical album covers what shaped his musical identity as a teenager.

Music Reviews Pedro the Lion
David Bazan Comes of Age on Pedro the Lion’s Santa Cruz

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. After unpacking his childhood on albums in 2019 and 2022, David Bazan has arrived at his teenage years and early adulthood on Santa Cruz, the third entry in an autobiographical arc by Pedro the Lion. This is when Bazan starts coming into his own, figuring out who he is and shaping the musical identity that has carried him through more or less until now.

Part of that process involved stepping back into Pedro the Lion, a moniker that had been dormant for 11 years before Bazan revived it in time for the 2019 album Phoenix. That LP was a collection of songs revisiting his childhood in the city where he was born and lived until his family moved away after seventh grade. Havasu in 2022 continued the narrative, as Bazan sorted through the tricky ambivalence of being a pre-teen who has no choice but to go along for whatever ride his parents are on, made all the more complicated by his religious upbringing.

By Santa Cruz, his peripatetic family is on the move again—several times, in fact, up and down the West Coast. The frequent changes in location frame the rest of what’s happening in these 11 songs, which revolve around a young man peering past the boundaries of his upbringing and discovering sleepovers with friends, make-out sessions with girls and, maybe most importantly, the Beatles, who turned out (spoiler!) not to be agents of Satan like he had been told. If Bazan’s childhood years had a certain universality—the joy of getting your first bike, the swirl of hormones that arrives in middle school—his experiences as a young adult often have a more distinctive tint: The dude sold vacuum cleaners for a minute, a gig that he makes sound as mortifying as it must have been on “Modesto.”

“Modesto” comes in on the latter half of the album, as Bazan begins firming up what would become a life in music: He quits the salesman racket in favor of a job in a guitar store, a change he relates over a thick blanket of fuzzed-over guitars and a slow beat. There’s a fair bit of angst before that happens, though. On the happier side, Bazan starts to find his crowd on “Little Help,” backed by buzzing bass and synthesizers. His family never stays put for long, though, and he’s trying to hold himself together as they head north to Seattle on “Don’t Cry Now,” a song stacked high with dark, rolling synthesizers and an implacable beat. Seattle turns out to be a good move: Bazan makes friends and begins to play in bands, though he wrestles with the elusive balance between music and schoolwork on “Teacher’s Pet” as a bright, chiming guitar surrounds his voice.

By the time Bazan brings Santa Cruz to a close, he has parsed “a very lonely decade,” as he puts it on the last song, the gently wistful “Only Yesterday.” That suggests that his triumphs—and he certainly had triumphs—were more than offset by a sense of rootlessness, of not belonging. That starts to change by the end of the song when he falls in love, which shifts the narration from second-person to first-person. “I finally feel some sunlight on my face,” is the last line he sings, which concludes the seventh Pedro the Lion album on a hopeful note, and serves as a juicy teaser for the next chapter of Bazan’s musical memoir.

Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013. His work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and Pitchfork, among other publications. He writes Freak Scene, a newsletter about music in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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