David Bazan - Strange Negotiations
Record Label: Barsuk Records
Release Date: May 24, 2011
It's safe to say most musicians draw on personal experiences and beliefs during the writing process. But, few match the intensity with which Seattle singer-songwriter David Bazan crafts his albums. As lead singer of the band Pedro the Lion, he often infused his first-person lyricism with spiritual imagery, the importance of which shone through with every line of Bazan's heartfelt vocals. Struggles with both his faith and dependence on alcohol came to the surface in the years after Pedro the Lion's break up, and he made many of his issues public on Fewer Moving Parts and Curse Your Branches, the first EP and full-length of his new solo career. Curse Your Branches in particular was as amazing a musical journey as can be had in forty minutes, both melancholic and hopeful as Bazan took a critical look at his life and the religion he had rejoiced in on earlier releases.
Strange Negotiations is a surprisingly varied assortment of tracks, ranging from up-tempo anthems of what's really important in life (“Level With Yourself”) and more recognizable, somber pieces of self realization (“Don't Change”). Bazan makes great use of the additional influences he gathered when putting this album together, and it definitely shines with the introduction of each and every track.
The only problem I have with Strange Negotiations is the lack of highlights. It would be hard for me to say any of the songs are bad in any way, but none of them really leave a lasting impression upon the first few listens. The closest the album has to a standout is probably “Virginia,” Bazan's farewell to a recently departed friend. While the song is musically very basic, the images Bazan is able to conjure with his mournful delivery really hit home.
Strange Negotiations is, overall, a very odd addition to Bazan's discography. Combining the best of his early work as Pedro the Lion and his new solo stint, it comes off as a refreshing evolution of his new sound while failing to really blow me away. Bazan is less personable than he's ever been, and the landscape he's created with Strange Negotiations is barren when compared to his earlier work. Fortunately, it ends strong. “Strange Negotiations” functions well as the title track, tying the overall theme of Bazan's exhaustion together in an almost bittersweet fashion. The final track “Won't Let Go” is a beautiful ode to Bazan's family, sonically dismal while still hopeful through its lyricism. While Bazan is still struggling with his concept of God in today's world, his love for those around him has strengthened tremendously.
If Curse Your Branches was the memoir of a man caught in the throes of spiritual doubt, Strange Negotiations is definitely the aftermath of Bazan's war with himself. His signature emotion bleeds from this album with every strummed chord and sung lyric, palpable in a way few artists can emulate. While less introspective than earlier efforts, Bazan's fills the void with his views on society in general with the same world-weary inflections he once turned on himself. Strange Negotiations may take some time to grow on even the most die-hard of Bazan's fans, but the roots of its few standouts run deep with repeated listens.
Great review. I thought Virginia, wolves at the door, and strange negotiations were all stand out tracks though. Also kinda thought this had some of the least inspired sounding lyrics of his career. But was nice to see a return to some of the more classic Pedro the lion instrumentation.
The part of this album that stands out to me the most is "you can't be right about the future if you're wrong about the past". It's never really songs of his that stand out to me. It's always those strong one line jabs he throws in throughout the whole album. I just look for things I can throw out at exgirlfriends to really make em feel like garbage. Davids good at coming up with those lines for me haha.
I definitely agree with this review. While not as spectacular as Curse Your Branches, it definitely has some strong merits. It's hard to follow up an album as great as CYB, but this one will do just fine for me.
I also think that People is a standout track on the album.
I had the chance to interview Bazan this past Tuesday when the record was released for Sock Monkey Sound. He's a really cool guy. We talked about recording the album, Control, Dyan, Macho Man and a bunch of other stuff. Check it out. This is the second time we've interviewed him so check that episode of the podcast out as well.
I'm actually happy to see a lower score, instead of something in the 80s. I liked the instrumentation on this record, and actually liked it a little better than Curses. Lyrically he's tough, and the album is a bit darker than his last, which makes me like it. I think he gets kind of trapped in his own style of writing, and trying to keep the listener engaged throughout can be difficult.