Strange Negotiations by David Bazan (Barsuk Records, 2011. 41 minutes)

A prolific songwriter, David Bazan began his career as the front man of Pedro the Lion and continued playing in the band The Headphones. Located in Seattle, Washington, Bazan currently works as a solo artist. Known best during his Pedro the Lion days for his theologically rich lyrics, Bazan’s time in The Headphones and as a solo artist depict a philosophical shift as his lyrics combat his problems with alcohol and Evangelical Christianity. Curse Your Branches – considered by many, including myself, to be a masterpiece, is Bazan’s first full-length record as a solo artist. Bazan lives in Edmonds with his wife and daughter.

A Complicated Relationship

I have a complicated relationship with David Bazan. On one hand, his mix of poetic lyricism, threadbare instrumentalism, and exposed vocals supply some of my favorite moments in music. On the other hand, I have reservations with Bazan’s highly publicized quarrel with the Almighty and his struggle with alcoholism. Yet, these inner demons provide fertile ground for profoundly well-written music.
Where Curse Your Branches, Bazan’s first solo effort, explores his fight with alcohol and the end of his relationship with the Christian God, Strange Negotiations projects Bazan’s jaded rancor outward to the rest of society.

Strange Negotiations

In perhaps my favorite tune on the record, “Strange Negotiations,” Bazan’s lyrics express his deeply held turmoil with himself and others. He sings,

“You cut your leg off to save a buck or two / Because you never considered the cost / You find the lowest prices everyday / But would you look at everything we’ve lost / Yeah it’s true I learned it from watching you / But now it’s you who doesn’t know what a dollar is worth / You got the market its own bodyguard / And all the people are getting hurt”

Typical of his lyrics, Bazan masterfully weaves an emotional story in his songs; he writes from a place of vulnerability. Listening to Strange Negotiations is like allowing Bazan to paint a picture in your brain.

Raw Energy

Musically, Bazan exchanges the acoustic guitar and occasional percussive rhythm of Curse Your Branches for raw, three-piece rock. When the first downbeat encounters the eardrum in the opener, “Wolves at the Door,” the listener understands that this record is extremely different. With an overdriven bass, a steady drumbeat, and lead guitar, Strange Negotiations rocks.
Although subtle, my favorite musical moment occurs on “Wolves at the Door.” When the energetic bass riff at the beginning of the songs shift down an octave a couple of bars later, the harmonic difference reverberates deep in my bones. Truthfully, the basic-yet-raw energy makes this record.

Vulnerable Honesty

Despite my reservations with Bazan’s strained relationship with the church, he churns out records with vulnerable honesty. Strange Negotiations is no Curse Your Branches. Not only are the records strikingly different, but also, Curse Your Branches signifies Bazan’s magnum opus. By default, Strange Negotiations fails to keep up.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy Strange Negotiations and recommend it for anyone who enjoys thoughtful lyrics and simplistic rock music.

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