Don’t Change: David Bazan’s Strange Negotiations

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So I finished up another of my semi-annual record review/recording projects. Below is “Don’t Change,” a track from last year’s Strange Negotiations by David Bazan. I’d love to crank out one of these every couple of weeks, but it’s always trickier than it sounds.  Nonetheless, I can’t seem to quit it. I’m already thinking about what’s next.  Maybe Father John Misty or Jack White? We’ll see how it goes.

You wouldn’t think a David Bazan song would be that hard to sing until you try. The trouble is that he’s good. He’s not one for vague vocal affectations pretending at a melody.  Instead he writes real notes, and the kind of notes that jump around more than the usual step or two.  Singing this was more like performing a show tune than something folky.  “Don’t Change” wouldn’t let me get away with doing my own thing, swinging through the pitch, hoping to that it was all close enough to get around the bases.  I could either sing it right or I could sing it wrong.

But I did make one change:  I flipped the gender of the first verse.  Songs about girls are always more interesting than songs about boys.  When a guy’s messing up, you might try to offer a little help, but there’s always some default element of “Dude, deal with it.”  It’s not right, but we expect males to have a deep well of self-reliance. If they don’t tap into that manly reservoir, that’s their lazy-ass fault.  When a girl’s in trouble, everything is a little more tragic. The damsel’s in distress, as the story goes.

I’d like to think that everyone can relate to this song, but maybe we all haven’t strayed so far off the path. Although David Bazan’s struggles with the bottles are well self-documented, it doesn’t have to be the drink that trips you up. We’ve all got our issues. We all think we’ll magically get it all together tomorrow. But when nothing different was done yesterday, nothing’s changed today, and on it goes. Habits, they’re hard to break.

Strange Negotiations isn’t as good as the last one, but it’s still really good.  The guitars are crunchier — a little more rock ‘n roll — which is never a bad thing. There’s plenty of Bazan at his best here: The imagery worthy of William Carlos Williams, the sad-eyed delivery, the hooky guitar lines and every-hit-counts drumming. His losing-my-religion theme is getting a touch preachy, but I get it.  I’ve hit my head on that floor a few times too, but Something always bounced me back.

So don’t change, David Bazan. You’re doing still doing the work, still chasing down your vocation.

my take on don’t change

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