I’m a recent convert to David Bazan. Last year I came across some video of him playing live, in what appeared to be somebody’s front room, and was really taken by his directness, his economical style, and his warmth. I was delighted to discover, shortly afterwards, that he was making a record with the Kadane brothers (Bedhead, The New Year), but wasn’t entirely sure that the combination would actually work. In the event, the collaboration also includes Will Johnson, and is called Overseas. It works wonderfully.
If you’re a fan of Bazan’s already, you won’t need telling about the range of his voice (which is pretty much all the way from the lower register of Chan Marshall to the mid-range of Mark Lanegan). When he sings with Johnson, as he does on several of these tracks, the combined effect is just .. well, lovely. And try singing along to “Here” if you want an embarrassing lesson in just how effortless they make that loveliness seem.
Bazan’s other great strength is the brevity and acuity of his writing. The latter quality is best evidenced here by “Old love,” “Down below” and “Here” – collaborative pieces which are nevertheless illustrative of what he brings to Overseas. These three are also as close to perfect as a song can be. The momentum and delivery resonates with the focused energy of the Kadanes’ Silkworm connections, but the writing is straight out of the Foster/McClennan school. Not a phrase is wasted.
If you’re a fan of the Kadanes’ work, you’ll know that they don’t waste a note either – every downstroke, every overlapping cycle of chords, every ringing bell of a note – everything is exactly where it is intended to be. And Johnson is a precise and dynamic drummer (perhaps you knew that? I didn’t). These various elements fit together as if they had been waiting for each other. Bazan’s writing is less eliptical than the Kadanes’, and it gives a different weight and depth to their arrangements. There is a counterpoint, too, in those songs which seem to carry the weight of Johnson’s contribution, such as the chiming opener, “Ghost to be.” These songs have more contemplative space within them, more distance. The shifts in mood have been compiled carefully – it’s a coherent, engaging experience. The wry, dry reflections of The New Year are here replaced by more confessional, expressive narratives. These draw you into a world where the protagonist’s discomfort matters to you, and then – concise as these songs are – leave you there. “Here,” in particular, is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and a dead cert candidate for any list of songs that would bring a tear to the eye of a bona fide golem. The whole thing is beautifully recorded too (I imagine that Matthew Barnhart is going to need a sign which reads ‘Book early to avoid disappointment’ after this). I can’t stop playing it.
They might not thank me for this observation, but I had this thought: sometimes you hear a record which is clearly the earlier source for a whole load of later records, and when you hear it, you have a little moment of revelation. The first time you hear Television, or Big Star, for example, you think, ‘Ah! That’s what all those other records were aiming towards, or firing off from.’ With the Overseas LP, I imagined for a moment that the timeline was reversed. Think of Sebadoh, or Guided by Voices, or their peers, and imagine that when their writing was at their best, that their playing had been at its best too. Imagine also that the record they might have made under such circumstances had contained no filler, no throwaway bits of self-consiousness, no experiments in kicking oneself in the ass. The record they’d have made in that alternative timeline would have sounded like it had been trying to be – hoping to be – just about half as good as this record actually is. As if time ran backwards, and Overseas was the source material all along.