David Bazan can’t avoid the darkness, no matter what he does.
David Bazan can’t avoid the darkness, no matter what he does. Even this (comparatively) light affair with new band Lo Tom plumbs some murky depths of the soul. Not that anyone’s complaining. The former Pedro the Lion frontman didn’t earn his fan base by singing about the Sun’s rays and joys of grass-fed beef. On this new supergroup outing—Bazan’s virtual conjoined twin T.W. Walsh reaffirms his awesomeness on guitar, while Trey Many and Jason Martin of Starflyer 59 round things out—that familiarity continues and thrives. The result is a sometimes spotty but still valiant effort.
The difference between this and some other DB releases of late is that the guitars get turned way up, loud enough that one could consider this the man’s hard rock project. No, he ain’t shaking the world to its core by going after “Whole Lotta Rosie” or “Whole Lotta Love.” There is, however, an unbeatable, exhilarating thud-and-pow coming from the drum kit and a certain gut-rattling vibe delivered via all things stringed. Though it’s often closer to Bob Mould’s latter-day angry-aging-man tendencies than, say, AC/DC, there are moments when you can imagine your teenage heart slotting this somewhere close to your Kiss cassettes and feeling like a 10th grade badass.
Featuring some of the strangest lyrics on any Bazan project, “Bubblegum” rolls and tumbles like Kiss’s “War Machine,” but with a sophistication Gene Simmons would never deign to embrace. “Bad Luck Charm” sounds like the kind of craziness you and your pals get up to in the garage the first time you have an amp of your own. It’s tighter than that but just as lean and hungry.
That hunger proves one of this record’s saving graces, even if the results don’t always measure up to the vision. “Another Mistake” wants to be tougher and noisier than it becomes, its tunefulness a compromise for the bloody stumps it wants to wave in the air. Other times, everything works out just fine, including the muscular “Find the Shrine,” which sometimes recalls Bazan in the most deliciously hurt moments of his solo debut, Curse Your Branches.
Even at a slender eight songs, the album sometimes feels drawn out, while at other times it’s long in the tooth or claustrophobic. Maybe it’s the running order or just the emotional demands placed upon the listener as we trudge through another dark night of the soul. But emotionally demanding can also be cathartic, and Bazan’s last solo effort, this year’s Care, remains a compelling example. It just doesn’t come off the same way here.
One hopes that Bazan doesn’t jettison Lo Tom, though, as there seems to be real promise in the way the outfit prowls around the speakers, waiting to unleash an almighty fury. Let’s hope there’s plenty of live work to come under this moniker, because that seems like a place these cats could really get down and find their real power.