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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