David Bazan’s name invokes a deep resounding response to anyone familiar with his musical carreer, that is so intwined with his personal life, one cannot easily separate the two. His former band Pedro the Lion was a Christian indie rock act. But lyrically, it was filled with doubt and often crass saterical content not often found in the Christian scene, which garnered both respect and criticism for his lyrical bluntness.
Bazan, a now self proclaimed apostate from protestant Christianity, broke hearts when he formally came to terms with his break from religion with his first solo album “Curse Your Branches.” The album title a thinly veiled jab at the Church called the branches of Christ (John 15:5).
Personal beliefs aside, Bazan’s songwriting, filled with brazen honesty, makes his music resonate on a human level. It is painfully refreshing to hear music rooted personal honesty in an industry that wallows either in anger or feeds on fluffy self fullment. David Bazan isn’t faking it for a quick buck. He forces his doubts, weaknesses, and brokenness, into often pained melodies because it is a sort of therapy for him. His formerly “Christian” work held the same examples, but in retrospect, were indicators of his spiritual state, and his lack of belief in a religion in which he was raised and active in for years. This is a fact Bazan himself is still coming to terms with, even if in self destructive ways. “I had to start admitting to myself what the state of my faith was, actually — that drinking habit was there in place, and started serving as a coping mechanism.” (Interview with NPR)
On a musical level, the Bazan’s second album under his own name returns with a full band, more electric, more rythmn, more rock. It is in many respects Pedro reborn. The opening tracks have the same driving electric guitar that lingers on one note as Bazan gives his social and religious commentary.
The album’s return rock doesn’t overpower Bazan’s standard criticisms of faith and society. It simply accentuates the listening experience. But the themes are not something that we haven’t heard before. From Nitche and to Christopher Hitchens, the disillusionment with religion and God are old concepts, but Bazan tries to make it a story of his personal journey, even if he lyrically jabs at Christianity. Even so, Bazan provides even less answers on this album. To him, it is more about the journey of faith. “Hold fast to the truth until your truth changes” [People]
The driving, minimalistic guitar of “Eating Paper” criticizes people for judging him and his shedding the mantle of Christianity. “Virginia” appears to be an apparent nostalgic retrospective on a deceased friend but viewed through his new lens that there is no heaven and hell, a bittersweet song with a musical tone that reflects the same.
Influences of Bazan’s experiments with sythesyzers in his band Headhpones make a dischordant appearance in “Messes”, a call to own up for mistakes made. “People seem so confused when they take home what they earn.” The song is as much as a call out to other people, as much as it is directed at himself, who recognizes his struggle with aloholism. Personal struggles, infidelity and lies have often been the subject of his songs in both his “Christian” and “agnostic” musical endeavors and Bazan continues to hash out his thoughts on simple human interaction and what is “right.”
The titluar song has Bazan’s signature broken vocals that insult, drip with disappointed, and resonate with sad acceptance. This is Bazan at his best, where his lyrics hit you at the heart coming from a very personal place. The rising electric guitars echo in the background and are cut short, and only the slow drum and acoustic guitar continue with its steady melancholic rythmn. Complete with Biblical references turned on their heads including the Prodigal Son and Nebuchadnezzar’s writing on the wall, with Bazan repeating “Feel like a stranger in my own town.”
Closing with a love song to his wife is slightly out of character for Bazan who commented in Bazan: Alone at the Microphone DVD “Love songs are hard…” For Bazan, “Please Baby Please” is a love song about being in a committed relationship over time, even if it means calling your wife about having a drink while on tour. “Options,” “Slow Car Crash,” and even “Poison” all are love songs from Bazan dealing with tough or dark issues in marriage. “Won’t Let Go” is a departure from the dark times of love, but rather a dedication to simply “Not let go,” that only “But darling death will have to pry my fingers loose” albeit in a slow depressing tune.
The veteran musician’s sophomore release under his own name seems more at peace and less preachy of his disillusionment with organized religion and most specifically Christianity. But to top the soapbox of CYB would be hard to do. Overall, the best album musically we’ve heard from from the newly imagined man of David Bazan. He still beats the dead horse of his agnostism, but with a more metaphorical stick, and with a sort of “devil may care” attitude, if he still believed in the devil that is.
VERDICT: Download or Dumpster
Musically, the album has a sort of kinetticsm that makes for a good indie rock cd. While it is exciting to hear a return to some of his indie rock roots with a full band, don’t expect drastic innovations on his well practiced musical theory. Bazan offers few answers to the questions and issues his personal lyrical mirror asks, though thankfully he doesn’t beat the dead horse of his apostasy like he did in his last cd. Instead, he tracks his slow settling into acceptance of a life without religious beliefs, while occasionally rallying criticism of those that are still in the church from which he has fallen. If you can critically evaluate Bazan’s aching rallies against his upbringing with a few hundred grains of salt, I say download the album, otherwise, toss it and move onto something more edifying.