This first half of 2016 has been a banner year with new releases from all my favorites music makers- TW Walsh set a really high bar for the year when he released Fruitless Research in February. Explosions in the Sky did not disappoint with their new album The Wilderness. Neither did David Bazan's Blanco (despite my initial fears). And of course, Radiohead dunked us headfirst in a Moon Shaped Pool, and it is amazing.
That would be enough for any good year, except I was also already anticipating the mid-June release of Starflyer 59's 14th studio release 'SLOW'. So when my vinyl preorder arrived I put it on the turntable, cranked it way up because I was home alone, and I found it pure bliss from start to finish. The first word that popped into my mind to describe it was "tight", almost as if Jason Martin had crafted each one of these songs with special keys that specifically fit into the various pleasure centers of my brain. I also feel like I connect with it lyrically more than I have the past few albums.
In interviews, Martin has described the somewhat "retrospective" nature of the new album, and I can definitely hear that. So while listening again I decided that it would be a fun game to assign each song on SLOW to the earlier SF59 album that I think it would fit in best with. So here's my list-
...It was when I turned my attention to writing ten more new songs for the NEW “new album” that I thought, “HEY… Wait a minute. I didn’t even get to do a proper round of club touring on all these Bazan Monthly jams.” It hit me that some of my favorite work that I’ve ever done was about to be paved over with whatever ten new songs I was preparing to write and record.
The bottom line is I love these songs and the energy of these recordings and I want more people to get to hear them. But even more than that, as we were choosing the songs, adding new sonic layers, and remixing everything to put the album together and as I’ve been playing them at house shows, I realized the most exciting aspect of it all: these songs describe something about the mess of very strong feelings that are pulsing through me right now the way that Curse Your Branches did back in ’09. The “Blanco” songs are very personal and important songs to me and I need to spend the rest of this year singing them over and over again.
And I 100% get where he's coming from on that, and it was pretty clear to me that this was about passion for the songs and not him just phoning this one in. Good save, DB. I felt a little bad for even briefly and silently questioning his integrity or work ethic as an artist.
Still, one more thing was bothering me leading up to release of Blanco- if I list my 8 favorite songs from Bazan Monthly, they are (in no particular order, other than appearance in the series):
Comparing this with the tracklist from Blanco, it was apparent that only one of my top favorites was slated to appear on the new album. Or to put it another way, it looked like Bazan's newest masterpiece was going to be made up all the other songs that didn't much stand out to me. It made me ponder what it was about the my favorites that made me more excited about those tracks in the first place. Maybe they're darker songs, or faster tempo, hook driven or more sonically or lyrically accessible to me- whatever it was, I just connected with them right from the first or second listen.
This reminds me of this theory that I have- that, given a list of some listener's most and least favorite songs of their catalog, an artist (knowing and understanding the inner workings of their own music) may have insight to see some specific patterns of that's person's taste. For instance, "Oh, you clearly enjoy my songs in G-minor, but you don't like the songs I write about my mother," or something like that. As an artist I would love to test this theory out myself, but unfortunately the sample size of our listenership is much too small right now, so that experiment will have to wait.
But again, I was left wondering what was it about all my favorite songs that caused Bazan to skip over them when putting together Blanco. And also it seemed maybe a little odd and unfair that he didn't go ahead and include 1 or 2 brand new songs in with the 10. With a lingering sense of entitlement mixed with a feeling of being slightly shortchanged, I decided to wait until I got back from vacation to think about ordering the new album.
Anyway, all this hand-wringing and prejudgment happened before listing to a single actual track from Blanco, with the assumption that I had heard them all already. That started to change when a few of the new tracks started appearing online, starting with Trouble With Boys. In the new recording I heard freshness and life breathed into what was already a stellar song.
And that freshness and new sense of continuity were what I heard in every song on Blanco when I pulled up the full album on Spotify when we got back from our trip. My sense of skepticism and mild disappointment melted away completely and I was ordering the vinyl before that first playthrough was even finished. And all my subsequent playthroughs have a only reinforced how spectacular Bazan / Blanco is, just the way it is. The tracklist gives songs that I overlooked on Bazan Monthly more room to breathe on their own and in Blanco's new context. Here the slow-burn of Both Hands or Oblivion aren't outshined by the firework blast of Deny Myself or Nobody's Perfect. And if there were a new song or two that had fit in well with this context, I trust Dave Bazan in his wisdom would have been damn sure to include them. On the other hand, I gotta remember that nothing wrecks a good album for me these days like one out of place sounding track*. And happily, nothing on Blanco sounds weak or out of place.
And now I even wonder about why it should even make sense to feel slighted that my favorite song isn't being retouched to reappear in album format. Because it takes nothing away from that great track already in my collection, except maybe the (probably unrealistic) expectation that a new recording and production would only improve on everything I love about the song already and basically send it into the stratosphere. So I'll gladly admit, all my worry and second guessing really made no sense now that I think about it. If nothing else, the greater gift really is having those other songs brought out from the background so that they may realize their full potential so I can fall in love with them too.
Sorry for doubting you, David. Can we talk soon about all my favorite songs?
*(I'm looking at you and still cringing, "Run2me" from latest from Smashing Pumpkins. I'm convinced that Monuments to an Elegy is far better with just 8 songs instead of the 9, so GET THAT SHIT OUT OF HERE.)
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