David Bazan was, for many years, the songwriter and driving force behind the acclaimed indie band Pedro the Lion, building a dedicated following and selling a couple hundred-thousand albums based in large part on his extraordinary melodic sense and erudite, theologically-themed songs. After a decade helming the project, he found himself embroiled in a major personal philosophical and spiritual cataclysm, wrapped in a growing drinking problem. Bazan got to work exorcizing both his demons and angels, ditching the Pedro moniker in favor of his given name and producing two incredible pieces of work in the Fewer Moving Parts EP and the 2009 full-length Curse Your Branches (Barsuk).
Alongside his tremendous line-by-line lyrical deftness, Bazan's greatest strength has always been his ability - a skill that runs deep in the best writers and other observers of humankind - to distill complex ideas to their essence, to connect us to his ruminations on Big Issues with an economy of language, and to communicate his conclusions (or lack thereof) with concise elegance that never loses its general human resonance.
Branches is considered by many to be a legitimate masterpiece. Charting Bazan's increasingly skeptical struggle with the precepts of the evangelical Christian world in which he was raised, the album covers some pretty serious ground. NPR called it "an album of great music and great humanity" - and we called it a masterwork by a modern American poet at the height of his powers.
While Branches documents an intensely personal and complex struggle, Bazan's new album Strange Negotiations focuses his energies toward the external, centering on his disappointment in the current state of accelerating American and global social fragmentation.
Negotiations is about delusion - or, rather, about trying to avoid the self-delusion that paves the way toward participation in mass delusion, and the deep impulse to dismiss those in ones life that subscribe to mass delusion. It's about the troubles that come from being a member of an insane culture; it's about the conflict between our love for humanity and the repellence we all are apt to feel about so many of our fellow humans. About the frustration that comes from realizing that refusing to participate in the delusion, while not dismissing the deluded, is the only way forward.
Musically, most of Strange Negotiations sounds like a great rock band playing songs they're beyond intimate with - and Bazan is audibly excited by the opportunity to play with great musicians who can match his spirited vocal delivery and fiery-but-loose lyricism. Drawing inspiration from a broad group of musical heroes ranging from Fugazi to Tom Petty, the grooves sit in the pocket, the tempos are up, and, for lack of a better word, the music swings. It's the first full length he's recorded with a band - the same band with which he toured relentlessly in support of Curse Your Branches - and in spite of the dire messages the album delivers, the joy that he, Andy Fitts (bass), and Alex Westcoat (drums) take in playing these songs is beautiful.
A near-perfect fusion of lyrical content and musicianship, full of great tracks with even greater lyrics.
Strange Negotiations suggests an Americana vet like John Hiatt more than an indie lifer.
David Bazan is perhaps the most underappreciated songwriter of our time.
He remains one of the most nakedly confessional writers since the Laurel Canyon heyday of Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, and he rocks a lot harder than both.
The music of Cotton Jones speaks of transition: the passage from one form, state of mind, style or place to another. Songs become doorways to the past, or windows that open on some unnamed future, where innocence can still exist and perfection is thrown to the wind.
The Glowstream is a place centered between North and South Cumberland. It's not really called the Glowstream - just a stream that rolls to a dead end by the train tracks downtown. A place to sit, undisturbed in the cool shade, and see the interstate bend around glowing steeples, as cars and trucks break their speed - it's beautiful - how the city materializes, an oasis, after driving many miles through the mountains along I-68 - to this spot, where it's possible to witness all the paces change.
"Tall Hours in the Glowstream,'" is the title of their new album. Some of the songs that made the final cut were tracked in northern States, while the majority were recorded and mixed in Winterville, Georgia, as a revolving cast of players, thinkers, and singers were invited to hang in the band's living-room studio.The resulting sounds are both rich and charmingly lo-fi, full of vivid imagery and more gorgeous vocal harmony. Hard-asking tracks like "Somehow To Keep It Going" and "More Songs For Margaret" prove the promise in this music, the feeling of something better to come if only you can hold tight a little longer..."Always the mornings keep coming..." And what a beautiful thing that is...
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