David Bazan was the songwriter and driving force behind the acclaimed band Pedro the Lion, building a dedicated following and selling a few hundred-thousand albums based in large part on his extraordinary melodic sense and erudite, theologically-themed songs. After a decade helming the project, he ditched the moniker in favor of his given name and has since released several critically-acclaimed albums.
As much of a follow-up to 2005's synth-heavy Headphones album as it is to last year's Blanco, Care (2017) finds Bazan getting back to the calm minimalism of early Pedro The Lion. Produced, recorded, and mixed by Bazan and legendary Oregon-based producer Richard Swift, bare synthesizers dominate the tracks, giving Care an intimate, personal sound. The vocals are close, mirroring the experience from the front seat at a house show. Steady, sparse beats tie the ten tracks together, thrumming a boom-tap, boom-tap like a thread.
Care creates vignettes with characters that are both diverse and intertwined. The title track is the anthem and mission statement for the album; a plea for empathy drawn as much from the state of the political world as the personal one. It reminds us that as we get older we can be more careless, that as we grow we can also retreat into ourselves and forget the simple truth that other people matter. It is a call to the simplest route to fidelity - to care more.
But the road to being present, the call to the task of being ultimately kind, is not easy. Care fights with itself, pulling tracks from Bazan Monthly Vol 1. Religious imagery haunts secular thoughts on "Permanent Record", while "Sparkling Water" mourns the quiet death of distance where there was once intimacy. Later, "Inner Lives" tiptoes past the temptation to settle for comfort instead of closeness.
"Keep Trying" is the clearest call to action. A track you'd be forgiven for reading as an interpersonal story, but would then miss the universal truth within it, the chorus repeats:
Sometimes love isn't all that it's cracked up to be
With humming synthesizers bolstered by Swift's signature warble and fade, "Keep Trying" reiterates the core of Care - that we're too easily distracted from what's real and lasting in favor of what is easy and accessible. That what we do to each other is what we do to the world. That some imperfect things are worth preserving.
As Bazan moves forward with a new chapter as a solo performer and a solo artist, this record is a ballast against what would be so easy to do - to isolate. It is a ringing commitment to see things for what they are and to protect what is left. To love better. Even if it isn't what it's cracked up to be.