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By Observer Staff
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Since the mid-'90s, David Bazan, more so than any of his contemporaries, has held a reputation for composing shrewd and engrossing songs that deal in the subjects of religion and the Christian faith. Pedro the Lion, the band he fronted from 1995 through 2005, sold a few hundred thousand records on the strength of their theologically based material and recondite commentary thereof. And, in the process, that band earned Bazan the distinction as crossover Christian indie-rock's biggest star.
Then, following the band's dissolve, came a period of personal turmoil—one marked by Bazan's struggle to come to grips with his diametric shift regarding his relationship with Christianity. He battled alcoholism over this time period as well. But his personal journey of self-reflection and his attempted reconciliation of his crisis of faith eventually paved the way for his most seminal, universally acclaimed work to date: 2009's Curse Your Branches. Ultimately, the album became known in the industry as Bazan's "break-up record with God."
First impressions of Bazan's latest effort, the recently released Strange Negotiations, may lead one to believe the singer may have, at least temporarily, shed some of his tenebrific demeanor. Chalk it up to a prevailing presence of electric, often distorted guitars, bigger drums and more upbeat tempos. But, in reality, the lyrical content on Strange Negotiations is every bit as dark as Curse Your Branches.
"It's a very concerned record," Bazan says. "I think this record is as concerned as Branches is, [but] about lots of different things. I think that it's an angrier record than Branches in a way. On Branches, I'm not sure that I'm expressing anger as much as just sort of being perplexed and disappointed or feeling contention. On this record, there is expression of anger at certain points."
This anger comes from the singer's growing discontentment with society's devolution into what he calls "social fragmentation." In that sense, Bazan has shifted the focus of his songwriting to external stimuli, casting a much wider net with his commentary this time around.
The Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once wrote, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." This is also, perhaps, Strange Negotiations' most pervasive sentiment.
"That's exactly the kind of posture that sort of fuels this record," Bazan says. "You feel like maybe you're being a little bitch about things to protest all the time about the way things are going, but at a certain point you just have to. Or else you'll go crazy. You can't just conform to the 'sick society.'"
At its heart, all good art comes from a place of integrity, from a creator with a powerful message to share and a compulsion to spread truth. And in that respect, Strange Negotiations may cement David Bazan's reputation as an artist in the truest sense.
Says Bazan: "It's helpful for people to pull the curtain back on the 'sick society' because I think there's justice and freedom in it for people who are under the thumb of that kind of culture but who don't have the strength to stand up against it and say, 'You know what, I'm not going to eat at McDonald's anymore.'"