Plumbiferous Media

Strange Negotiations – David Bazan

May 29th 2011
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Strange Negotiations - David BazanDavid Bazan
Strange Negotiations
Score: 80

David Bazan, frontman of ten-year (now dissolved) indie group Pedro the Lion and now solo artist, released his second solo album, Strange Negotiations, earlier this month. Strange Negotiations keeps the tone of Bazan’s impressive 2009 solo debut, Curse Your Branches, with careful modifications and refinements that not only demonstrate Bazan’s progress but make for a good album. At the same time, however, Strange Negotiations seems to have lost just a bit of the energy that was behind Curse Your Branches. It’s still a step up from that album (if a slight one), and a great listen – but it’s one that occasionally feels like it could be a bit more exciting.

Well-crafted instrumentals grace the tracks of Strange Negotiations, from the title track’s careful opening to “Eating Paper”‘s more involved build-up. Bazan tends not to use the most potent instrumentals possible – they’re powerful, certainly, but they tend to stay near the back of the music, while Bazan’s voice is afforded center stage. This isn’t necessarily a bad decision, but it does from time to time give the music a slightly flat sound. For the most part, it’s a successful choice – Bazan is a skilled vocalist and songwriter, and it shows, just as it’s meant to. In those few moments, though, it stops the music from being as interesting as it could be – and that’s a pity.

Bazan’s voice is at once plaintive and powerful – less of an odd mix than it might initially seem, and quite possibly the only mix that could manage what Bazan does. He manages to sound melancholy without being depressing, resigned without being boring, and enlivened without overpowering the often-dark lyrics. It’s a balancing act that Bazan is quite good at, and one that means that he can sing “You’re a goddamn fool / And I love you / Yeah, I love you” without it seeming a bit cliché. Bazan sets the tone of Strange Negotiations beautifully and expertly, giving each word the emotional weight it deserves.

Lyrically, Strange Negotiations is quite good – not a surprise from David Bazan, but always a pleasure. Bazan’s suggestion on “Future Past” is perhaps the best demonstration of the album’s tone – when he sings “Dig my new solution for / Harnessing depravity / We’ll give everyone shotguns / And cloaks of anonymity,” it’s cynical as can be, but with an edge of humor that prevents it sounding too dark. That’s how Strange Negotiations works – replete with metaphors and with deep meaning to go along with them. Each track tells a story – often an odd one, but a story nonetheless, and always one that expresses Bazan’s vision.

Strange Negotiations is a very good album, though it suffers from a few regrettable flaws. Graced with excellent vocals and lyrics, the album’s got quite a base to work from, and work from it it does. Thanks to that, the majority of the album comes out as a well-crafted mixture of everything David Bazan is best at. Unfortunately, from time to time, especially when the instrumentals aren’t quite given their due, the album stops being as interesting as it could be, instead flowing by in a rather unremarkable way. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen that often – but it’s disappointing, when compared to the successes of the rest of the album. On the whole, Strange Negotiations is a success – but there’s certainly room for improvement.

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