Back in 2006, Pedro the Lion was effectively kaput. David Bazan and the only other official member TW Walsh returned with the electronic sounds of their one-off album as Headphones.
Headphones utilized the song structures of typical Bazan-penned Pedro tunes but combined that with Walsh’s drumming and both artists’ respective synthesizer skills to create a new sound.
Over the decade since the duo released their album as Headphones, they continued to collaborate (Walsh remastered all the old Pedro the Lion albums for rerelease a few years ago) but mostly worked on their respective solo careers. Bazan released two solo albums, 2009’s Curse Your Branches and 2011’s Strange Negotiations on Barsuk records, but both albums were mixed and mastered by Walsh. Walsh kept busy with production work and released albums with the Soft Drugs, and his own 2011 album Songs of Pain and Leisure.
Both artists solo work after Pedro the Lion and Headphones was not electronically based, but focused more on the classic guitar/bass/drum sound.
Interestingly enough, a decade after their combined electronic release with Headphones, both artists have returned with new solo albums that shift completely their solo sound. Both new albums from Bazan and Walsh are heavily synth and drum machine based, but each album has its own flavor.
On to the reviews. We’ll go in order:
TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Released 2/12/2016, Graveface Records):
Walsh has an amazing ability to find execute melody. Each song on this album flows around the melody and Walsh’s vocals.
The structure of most of the songs is basic. Walsh does a great job layering simple repeating melodies to create a masterful, nuanced pieces.
Walsh was quoted in Paste on lead single, Fundamental Ground:
“Musically speaking, this song is dead simple,” said Walsh. “Three chords on repeat, and I think there may be a grand total four notes in the vocal melody. Lyrically, it’s about the quest to recognize the fundamental ground of reality as described by the great ancient Mahasiddhas (meditation masters) of India and Tibet. So, basically, it’s a song that the kids are really gonna identify with…also, Ben Gibbard texted me to let me know he really likes this song, which was pretty awesome.”
Fundamental Ground is a great example of the clean, uncluttered simplicity that permeates throughout Fruitless Research.
This is an album that connects with this reviewer from a music and melody standpoint. Lyrically, this album touches a lot on vague spiritual awareness in places, but I focus less on the lyrics and more on the tone and shape of the melody.
Key Tracks: Fundamental Ground, Counting Cards, The Glow
Static and Distortion Rating: 8.2 Dinosaur Jrs.
David Bazan – Blanco (Released May 13, 2016, Barsuk Records):
Many of the songs from Blanco started as 2014 releases on SoundCloud as part of Bazan Monthly. Bazan fans could pay for a subscription to get a new track each month.
The track names on Blanco may be familiar to fans, but compared to the Bazan Monthly releases, the album tracks have been tweaked, remastered and largely rerecorded. Vocals are crisper, the production is brighter, and more cohesive.
This reviewer has been following the songs since they were trickling out month-to-month. I may be partial to some of the original versions. Some of the vocals on the original tracks felt more raw and honest, while the rerecorded vocals feel more “technically” better.
Sonically, the classic Bazan song structure is still there, although this electronic palette truly feels like something new after nearly 20 years making records. While Headphones sounded like electronic Pedro the Lion songs, Blanco feels like a new era of Bazan song writing.
The album flows well, but while Walsh’s Fruitless Research is simple and clean, some Blanco tracks start to feel cluttered with too much electronic ambiance and not enough melodic structure to underpin it.
Lyrically, its classic but nuanced Bazan. With You is a classic Bazan take on a love song. It handles the nervousness of a relationship, fears, doubts, and insecurities while ultimately realizing, time has passed and “we’re still together.” The Trouble With Boys feels like an electronic take on a classic slow-core style track. I’m almost reminded of older Low tracks. The final lyric “you are worthy of love” is devastating and beautiful.
Key Tracks: With You, The Trouble With Boys, Little Landslides
Static and Distortion Rating: 7.6 Dinosaur Jrs.
Final Take: Each of these albums have their own take on an electronic shift for each artists solo style, and each are good complimentary pieces for fans of the Headphones album.
Want to do something fun? Create a playlist with both albums to create a Headphones double album. If each album was released as a double Headphones album, you can basically create a Headphones version of Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.