At age 35, Seattle treasure David Bazan continues to write gut wrenchingly great songs (whether playing solo, fronting Pedro the Lion, Headphones or his own band). Bazan has released his second album (Strange Negotiations) under his own name, backed only by bassist Andy Fitts and drummer Alex Westcoat. There isn’t as much textural variety as 2009’s Cursed by Branches, but these songs don’t need a diverse palate to get the message across. Using minimal elements, Bazan does what he does best: for better or worse, make people cry.
Bazan’s older music is so powerful due to its introspective nature. Songs such as “Second Best” off his 2002 masterpiece Control should be prefaced by a warning: may cause nihilism. Strange Negotiations isn’t quite as downtrodden as most of Bazan’s back catalogue though it’s hardly warm and fuzzy. The songs are more apt to look outward than inward as Bazan wrestles with the strange negotiations of the people around him, using second person narrative though the ‘you’ he’s referring to is usually ambiguous.
The use of the word ‘strange’ is not so much bizarre but mysterious as the album swims through unanswered questions and unresolved situations in the past. The song lyrics are posted on Bazan’s site and read as a series of thoughts in a notepad with no punctuation or capitalization. But the broken words fit together like pieces of a fragile puzzle as Bazan tries to make sense of what other people do. A song like “Wolves at the Door” paints a scary portrait of greedy people who “prepare a feast for your provisions,” only to “take your money and (eat) your kids.”
Despite his song penning ingenuity, David Bazan’s voice sets him apart from the pack. He’s always had a grainy texture, but Bazan is starting to sound particularly weathered on this record. Not so much tired as he is aged, the singer embodies the anguished storyteller better than ever. The quality of Bazan’s voice mesmerizing and his uncanny gift for pacing melodies to peak at just the right moment shines above the crisply produced arrangements.
There is not a weak song from start to finish, with the album’s title track as the standout. “Strange Negotiations” is set to a backdrop of washy electric guitar, strummed acoustic, and sparse bass and drums. Bazan sings, “You blew off your inheritance and now you’re trying to pin the blame on me/And I could write you off so easily except a hundred million other people agree.” If he ever plays this song in your house on one of his frequent living room tours, you should probably have melted by the time he gets to the falsetto section about five minutes in. Long live David Bazan. He just keeps getting better.