Pedro the Lion

Several years ago, U2 singer Bono told Rolling Stone magazine about a visit he and bassist Adam Clayton once made to the home of fellow devout Christians Johnny and June Carter Cash. As they sat down to eat dinner, Bono recalled, "John spoke this beautiful, poetic grace, and we were all humbled and moved. Then he looked up afterwards and said, 'Sure miss the drugs, though.'"

David Bazan, the Seattle songwriter who shepherds Pedro the Lion through indie-rockdom, has long imbued his work with a similar paradox. A deeply religious man, he wrestles with questions about his faith, expending lyrical energy in an effort to reconcile man's earthly desires and flaws with the immutable laws set forth in the holy book. As he puts it in the wistfully rendered "The Fleecing," the third track from his fifth album, Achilles Heel, "I could buy you a drink/I could tell you all about it/I could tell you why I doubt it and why I still believe."

That he does, all the while challenging fundamental convictions about life and death with a halo of rich melodies. In "I Do," amid throat-lumping guitar emissions, electronic twinkles, and a lissome beat, Bazan pits the cherished act of bringing life into the world against the realities of parenthood. "Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do/It's time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through," he sings with a nimble, lugubrious tenor that suggests a more substantive Chris Martin. On the jangly "Discretion," he appears to cede the moral high ground to a professional assassin who impulsively murders the "asshole son" who had hired him to whack his father: "The killer traveled eastbound in a golden-brown sedan/ Weighing his most recent deviation from the plan." But first-person emotionalizing and heavy-handed preaching aren't really the Bazan way of affecting hearts and minds.

That doesn't mean Bazan avoids passing judgment on the subjects of his fictional narratives. Alcoholics in particular get savaged in "Keep Swinging" and "The Poison," while the lasting damage of infidelity gets a clever allegorical treatment in "Arizona" ("Arizona curled up with California/Then she tried to hide the whole thing from New Mexico"). Ultimately, though, he doesn't feign to know the right path for anyone, himself included. It's his ongoing search for truth that keeps generating such thought-provoking and aurally gratifying music. Long may he roam.