Back in September, I finally attended one of David Bazan’s living room shows, after years of missing out. He did not disappoint. Lit by flickering candles, with a cool fall breeze blowing through the room, the erstwhile Pedro the Lion entertained not just with great music, but with his trademark self-deprecation and unflinching honesty as he fielded questions from the audience. While, outside of a few side projects, Bazan hasn’t released new music since 2011’s Strange Negotiations, earlier this year he began recording two songs per month, dubbing this collection Bazan Monthly Vol. 1. A few weeks before the living room show, I started listening to these songs and was drawn back into his universe—dark and melancholy but undeniably authentic. And these songs, several of which I heard acoustically at the living room show, hit me hard and stuck. Taken together, they constitute some of the best music Bazan has ever turned out.

bazan-vol1-set-500Throughout his career, Bazan has proven a deft interpreter of the human condition, a brilliant commentator on our insecurities, failures, and inner demons. On Bazan Monthly, he remains in strong form, turning his critical gaze on Christianity, America, and, most importantly, himself.

As serious and powerful as Bazan’s lyrics are, he never seems to lose his sense of self-awareness nor his recognition of the past. On the first song of the collection, “Impermanent Record,” he quips, “I store my thoughts in other people’s heads, and then I question what they know.” Over a ponderous bass and some incisive guitar, this line comes almost as a confession, perhaps even a comment on Bazan’s previous career as Pedro the Lion as well as his former beliefs. The final line of “Impermanent Record” gives us a glimpse into a theme that seems to coalesce throughout the remaining songs: “I keep a record of the earth and I write it down for what it’s worth.”

The music on Bazan Monthly is rejuvenated. As much as I appreciated Strange Negotiations, I wondered if Bazan’s sound was beginning to grow stale, relying too much on the slow-burning, lo-fi soundscape that has always been his style. On the new release, you can hear the fruit of his adventurous side projects. Electronically inflected songs like “Nobody’s Perfect” and “With You” recall Bazan’s work with his side project Headphones, and I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest that the painfully beautiful “Trouble With Boys” owes something to Bazan’s recent collaboration with the Passenger String Quartet. Heck, even a guitar solo pops up on “Disappearing Ink,” an unusual burst of musical flair.

Although Bazan Monthly mixes things up sonically, Bazan’s lyrics continue to explore the depths of the human condition in a surprisingly articulate manner, revealing inner turmoil with just a word or phrase. “Stop and think,” Bazan repeatedly sings on “Little Landslides,” and with each repetition, the weight of these words grows heavier, his haunting voice perfectly capturing mental exhaustion. On the frightening, moody “Deny Myself,” a song that would have fit perfectly on Control, Bazan’s character sneers, “I cuckolded my brother cause I was bored and cause I could,” before delivering the song’s chilling, yet accurate chorus: “I could deny myself. But why would I deny myself?” As with much of Bazan’s work, the questions outnumber the answers, a refreshing change of pace from the romantic certainty and confidence that seems to pervade the majority of pop music these days.

Bazan

The few answers Bazan does provide, however, are all the more poignant, forged in the furnace of his entire career. In “With You,” a track about his relationship with his wife, Bazan reveals a litany of his faults and weaknesses, before ending the song with this revelation: “The power’s out in our first apartment. I’m on the couch worried that we’re through, but when the lights come on, I’m really under the covers and I’m with you.” This declaration of love mirrors “Won’t Let Go” from Strange Negotiations, as Bazan reminds us that human relationships really do impact our lives in enormous ways.

As usual, Bazan saves his best for last, and the last song of Bazan Monthly will cut you right to the core. Almost a lullaby, “Trouble With Boys” finds him consoling a young man struggling with sexuality and identity, Bazan’s soft voice breathing life and compassion into a heartrending situation: “Still, you don’t really know why they treat you so bad.” Then, the final words of the song hit with full emotional force: “You are worthy of love.”

One might ask, is anyone “worthy” of love? If Bazan’s lyrics tell us anything, most of us are actively not “worthy” of love–at least in the sense that our actions often hurt and betray the people who care about us. No, I suspect that Bazan is too keenly aware of his own depravity to end the record with an assertion about humanity inherently deserving love. And yet, even after his departure from the faith, Bazan has always exhibited a deep understanding of grace. Perhaps grace is being told you are worthy of love, even/especially when it seems that couldn’t be further from the truth.

You can purchase Bazan Monthly online at Undertow Music or listen via Soundcloud