Headphones is what happens when you are a moderately successful independent singer-songwriter with a background in the Christian rock market who abandons his faith right before the eyes of the very audience that once fed him, and then afterward wants to write a pop album using a synthesizer and a drum machine under a different name so as to avoid the possibility of sullying the reputation you’ve built up with your other project and also an attempt to skate around the further criticism by your previous market but face the inevitability of being unable to do so.
In all seriousness, Headphones is the one-off side project of brilliant Pedro the Lion frontman-turned solo act David Bazan. In order to avoid any confusion regarding the use of the PTL moniker, Bazan teamed with longtime contributor TW Walsh and released the album as Headphones.
Unfortunate though, for the fans of this album: this eponymous debut is their one-and-done. At just 10 tracks (11 on the iTunes version), it’s a delicious snack that will leave listeners wanting more.
Fear not, though, as Bazan’s debut under his own name, Curse Your Branches, bears some resemblance to Headphones. The damning operative word there is ‘some,’ which is disappointing to me, as a longtime fan and follower of his work.
Earworm “I Never Wanted You” will ring as true as “Bless This Mess” from Curse Your Branches, living on as a spiritual successor despite the non-possibility of a future Headphones release. It’s an tremendous juxtaposition, like seeing the two sides of a story via song (á la what Geoff Rickly did across a span of nearly a decade for his car crash narrative).
Headphones is delightfully minimal: stripped down to just the essentials. At times, even just a single keyboard and vocals (“Major Cities”). Clean production makes for a crisp, almost clinical experience. Thematically, Bazan’s gloomy outlook and imagery peak their way through on “Shit Talker” and “Slow Car Crash.”
For someone who’s been playing mid-tempo acoustic songs and playing shitty Christian music festivals (with 10,000 shitty hardcore bands) his entire career, you’d think at some point he’d want to just tear through a solo or tell his audience to “Open up this fucking pit!”
Headphones could have been the vehicle for Bazan to tap into his inner punk tendencies. I’m so, so glad he decided not to. Instead, he got to experiment with mid-tempo electronica, a diversion that affected his later work.
From the self-titled and only release, this is Headphones with “I Never Wanted You” –
Standout tracks: “I Never Wanted You” and “Hello Operator” and “Natural Disaster”
Weakest track: You know, this listen in particular I’m not feeling “Gas and Matches” for whatever reason. But it is reminding me of Ryan Gosling’s Dead Man’s Bones project.
RIYL: Indie pop, electro-pop. Starflyer 59, Pedro the Lion.