The Upshot: With a new electronicized approach, Bazan has never sounded more honest or real or, paradoxically, artful, and as a bonus, you can dance to it.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
David Bazan has used synthesizers before, most prominently on his 2005 as Headphones, but never as luxuriantly as here. The Headphones record sounds buzzily lo-fi and minimal – think Casiotone for the Painfully Alone or Vex Ruffin. Blanco, on the other hand, is lush with disco hedonism and new wave glossiness. There’s some chatter online about the influence of Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin, but I’d say the Cure, the Pet Shop Boys, even Depeche Mode are more relevant.
The contrast with Bazan’s regular guy rasp and earthy poetry could not be more striking. “Both Hands” kicks off the disc in a conflagration of electronic sounds, abstract bumps, moans and turmoil. This sensory haze gives way eventually to a sleek and variegated palette that evokes dance, new wave, even dubstep. A silky, stylish vibe presides, as synthesized sonics swirl over and around the melody. The music poses and preens, while Bazan, as always, opens his heart (“sometimes twice a week, we make ourselves vulnerable”). And yet the mix works somehow, making Bazan seem more real, the arrangements more unearthly, through juxtaposition.
That continues through much of the album’s first half. “Teardrops” surrounds sad sack self-deprecations with a dry snare beat, its sweet-but-distant Pet Shop Boys vibe constructed of flute-y synths and tinkling keyboards. “With You” frames mumbled confessions with a high pinging synth line that reminds me of the Thompson Twins. And “Trouble with Boys” the first of a couple of songs apparently addressed to Bazan’s daughter, glitters with angelic, upper-register keyboards, as the quintessential dad voice assures someone that “you’re worthy of love.” Electronics recede in the album’s latter tracks. “Little Landslide” is mostly strummy and acoustic, while “Kept Secrets” admits only the barest trace of synthesizer whoosh and hum amid its songwriter-y revelations.
The songs on Blanco first appeared on Bazan’s monthly 7” series, so it seems clear that using synthesizers was one way of differentiating them from their original versions. (He must like doing this, since his last album was a collaboration with the Passenger String Quartet.) But he seems to be onto something interesting with this electronicized approach. He’s never sounded more honest or real or, paradoxically, artful, and as a bonus, you can dance to it.
DOWNLOAD: “Trouble with Boys” “Kept Secrets”