David Bazan - Strange Negotations (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

David Bazan

Strange Negotations (2011)


After years of working under monikers like Pedro the Lion and Headphones, David Bazan's 2009 disc Curse Your Branches was a great solo debut. It tackled some incredibly difficult subjects (religion, alcoholism, and pedophilia, among others) in an earnest and intelligent way, and was one of Bazan's most consistent releases in a pretty prolific career. Unfortunately, Strange Negotiations is something of a step backward for Bazan, an uneven disc that has its fair share of duds to go along with the small number of great tracks on the disc.

There are great tracks to be found on Strange Negotiations, perhaps more than the score lets on. The opening and closing tracks serve as great end pieces to frame the disc, and the title track manages to keep its entire six minutes entertaining with its steady rhythm and poignant lyrics. In the middle of the disc, "People" is sure to be a fan favourite, juxtaposing soft verses with a soaring, extremely catchy chorus.

The track that deserves the most attention, though, is "Virginia", a tragic song about a friend of Bazan's who died too young. As it happened during his Christian years, Bazan recounts how he and his friends became worried about whether the friend would be going to heaven or hell upon death. Bazan perhaps alludes to his new perspective on faith when he sings "You smiled at us, floating high above the question. Like you knew something that we didn't know." What really makes the track shine is how, despite its sparse instrumentation, Bazan's rich voice manages to make what could otherwise be a bland track into an unforgettable, haunting song.

There are, however, songs that Bazan's voice just can't rescue. "Future Past", in particular, is a struggle to listen to as the song simply trudges along at an unbearably slow clip, while Bazan stretches out his voice so that it takes him 40 seconds to sing "Dig my new solution for harnessing depravity. We'll give everyone shotguns and cloaks of anonymity." It's simply too slow to be engaging.

Even though there are more hits than misses here, there are enough misses to drag the whole disc down. Strange Negotiations lacks the consistency of Curse Your Branches, and the result is a disappointment in Bazan's otherwise solid catalog.