David Bazan has become a workhorse for the indie rock set. He’s no Robert Pollard, of course (as of this year, Pollard has released one hundred albums). But Bazan has been a major part of four full-length records in a year’s time, and that’s quite a chunk of tuneage. Three of these releases were solo, but Lo Tom’s self-titled debut is a little different. The narrative building around Lo Tom is that it’s a supergroup of sorts, which is a little misleading. Unless you grew up as a die-hard Christian indie rock fan, this is no supergroup. It’s essentially just a group of like-minded dudes making rock music together, and there is never anything wrong with that. Lo Tom finds David Bazan and friends making a simple, blue-collar set of indie rock tunes.
Here’s a good thing: the group doesn’t hide its humility. The press on Lo Tom doesn’t push a troubled or overtly political creation myth. The band describes themselves as “a group of friends who missed making noise together and wanted to hang out”. So, this album just exists, and that’s just fine. As great as some loud, extravagant narratives surrounding album releases can be, let’s be honest: they’re often just fluff. Lo Tom doesn’t push any of that, and it’s quite a refreshing move.
Musically, Bazan has been progressively weaving more electronic sounds into his music for years, to the point where this year’s Care was a moody synthpop record. But Lo Tom rips all that out. It’s a simple guitar, bass, and drums combo. Upon first listen, the music can come off as too simple, perhaps dull. Moreover, you would be forgiven if you thought you pocket clicked ‘shuffle’ to an AC/DC song when either “Bubblegum” or “Find the Shrine” comes on. It’s a little off-putting for a Bazan listener upon early listens. Although, something happens if you give these riffs some time: these riffs dig in, they stay. The simplicity becomes fun. Even if the ensemble sounds wholly constructed on a rock assembly line, they rise above and bore themselves into your ear, leading to the obligatory rock head nod.
Lyrically, Bazan has been more affecting in the past. His solo albums have come to focus on narratives focused on the domestic. Songs like “Inner Lives” and “The Ballad of Pedro Y Blanco” from his most recent solo album,Care, are so specific they must be autobiographical snapshots of his home life, at least they seem that way, and this realm of the concrete narrative is where Bazan is strongest. Outside of “Bad Luck Charm” Bazan doesn’t offer such reality on Lo Tom. It’s a little more abstract here. On the opening track, “Covered Wagon”, Bazan posits: “Pretty sure we’ll be living in a covered wagon with every little thing we need. I don’t mean to be mysterious… don’t make me.” Later, on “Another Mistake” he sings, “Down comes the mountain with some breaking news. What becomes of me, what becomes of you.” If you come to this record looking for the storytelling Bazan, expect a surprise.
In an environment saturated with self-sanctioned importance being attached to every album in order to push units, it’s cool to see a band slide in so casually. Bazan has always been a musician’s musician, and he continues this here. No big entrance here. It’s just a low-stakes rock record made by some buds. There’s no need to puff it up. Just listen and like it if you like it.