Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
David Bazan always seems to find a way to show us how the so-called or so-seen-as morally bankrupt and the morally wealthy aren't that much different. Those strapped for cash and general wellbeing and those who live somewhat high lives are relative. The enchanting photograph that adorns the cover of his latest album, "Strange Negotiations," is of what appears to be a strikingly pretty (or at the least very naked and seemingly fit) young woman and an old man in his bed clothing -- with bony hands, hair as white as snow and snarled feet -- walking the perimeter of a swimming pool, hand-in-hand. We can obviously tell them apart, but they're together here. The vacant look in his eyes, as he's being led by the beautiful, tan woman, makes us believe that there's nothing much to be excited about here. We're not sure where this will lead, but it's likely not there. This is companionship, we think, and it's strange, as the woman is likely his granddaughter's age and he's likely got one foot out the door. You could read the looks and the actions as something like one final gasp, one more go-round, but you would prefer to believe that this is all just acting. They're just two people in a photograph, making a scene that demonstrates an extreme emotion that comes when a man catches himself falling, not just down, but away. It's the white coming into those hairs that scares us closer to our deaths, the natural warning sign that there's no way around it. It's here that a person starts to look at what he's done. It's not really the accomplishments that they look at, but the things that they messed up. There's a character in Charles Yu's novel, "How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe," who repairs time machines and he dispenses the most basic data that he's collected within his line of work, saying, "A typical customer gets into a machine that can literally take her whenever she'd like to go. Do you want to know what the first stop usually is? Take a guess. Don't guess. You already know: the unhappiest day of her life." Bazan is a flat-out expert at bringing to life these characters who have and will forever struggle with the decisions that they've made throughout their lives. They have hurt people and been hurt. They've lost people and they've brought a few into the world themselves, giving them the complete perspective and no perspective at all. We all realize that things get foggy the harder we think about them or the closer we think we're getting to some kind of clarity. Bazan makes all of the confusion some of the most beautiful poetry, showing the people fumbling through their thoughts and landing where they can. They think they know someone or they think they know themselves and then it all changes again and it's like having their mind erased. He sings on "People," "I wanna know who are these people blaming their sins on the fall/Who are these people if I'm honest with myself at all/These are my people/Man what else can I say/You are my people/And we're the same in so many ways/Then your eyes turned green/And you broke the machine that when handed to you was still kind of functioning." Yes, everyone's equally troubled and equally suspect. We see ourselves in all of it and that's what makes it all so disheartening, or is it really closer to comforting. We all seemingly make everything worse as we're trying to make it better. Bazan sings, "We're making a list of all the negative side effects that come with the shit you let yourself get away with," and we conclude that we're not getting anywhere. We'll just have another cup, if you'll put another pot on. Let's talk some more.