David Bazan: Blanco

David Bazan is capable of making misery seem bearable. Not so on this third long-player where he falls into the mire and can't get unstuck.

David Bazan


Label: Barsuk
US Release Date: 2016-05-13
UK Release Date: 2016-05-13

For his third full-length solo release David Bazan has culled the 10 best cuts from the extremely limited 7” singles series named Bazan Monthly. The intention? To create a cohesive album that sings from end to end. One would expect nothing less from Bazan, especially after the highly-regarded Curse Your Branches and Strange Negotiations. But Blanco is not those albums. It’s a rare middling effort in a career marked by impeccable writing and the ability to craft songs that speak to the listener directly, transparently, and with an honesty that sears the soul.

He’s sounded unhappy before. But that unhappiness has usually been accompanied by some kind of anger. There’s been lights in the darkest of corners, a little bit of hope for listeners to cling to. Here, there’s no such thing. In the worst moments he sounds miserable, even resigned. The heavy electronic settings don’t help.

After a couple of perky, uplifting soundwaves at the start of “Both Hands” and the almost positive throbs of “Oblivion”, the record falls into a pattern of listlessness. The country-ish “Kept Secrets” dies on the vine, the singer sounding incapable of lifting whatever weight has landed on his shoulders. The song meanders to its middle and an unremarkable end. There’s no fight left in the dog come those final moments, and by the half-finished “With You”, it becomes difficult to trudge onward.

The pieces have an unfinished quality to them, as though they’re demos for something greater, something that might touch on past glory. The trouble is that Bazan doesn’t seem capable of finding his way out. “Teardrops” manages a temporary hold on resolve, as the specter of the artist we’ve loved all along emerges from beneath the fog, raising the flag of the disaffected one more time. It’s fitting for a song about human frailties, about the realization that we are not alone. He conveys these affirmations with clear-eyed sincerity. It feels like a rally.

But that sense of overcoming the bummer set we’ve drifted into proves short-lived. The down tempo drone of “Over Again” is almost too much to bear, as though one has swallowed a handful of motion sickness pills only to spend the night sitting on the couch, gazing at the world through glacial eyes. “Little Landslide” at least has a delightfully unvarnished feel. It’s homespun and lo-fi, the kind of thing Robert Pollard tracks before his morning coffee and waking toke. In a different setting, on a different album it would be sheer delight. Here, it’s minor relief.

“Little Motor” is a portrait of depression and despair that wants to break from its heavy settings and the synth settings that weigh it down. It too becomes trapped under the weight of electronics and a voice that seems to sense little use in committing to fighting the futile fight against the dying of the light.

If you can get beyond any of that and appreciate the record for the beautiful words that Bazan manages to craft to accompany the turgid and torpid music, you’re one step beyond the majority.

Maybe Bazan can find it in his heart to recut some of the better pieces here at some point, cast them as something with more zeal, more vigor, something that feels more alive. In the meantime, feel free to return to your well-worn copy of Curse Your Branches. If you don’t already have that, it may be time you investigate.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.