June 18, 2013

Review of Overseas' self-titled debut album, Overseas 
by Levi Bagdanov
I get this sinking feeling in my stomach every time I go to the dentist. Especially if I haven’t been flossing. I cram for a dentist appointment like I used to cram for finals—brushing three times longer than usual and flossing vigorously in an attempt to make up for months of neglect.

I would really rather not think about my teeth at all and let them rot in my mouth in peace. I definitely don’t want to see the look of disappointment in my dentist’s eyes when I open wide.

I have a similar feeling when I listen to David Bazan’s music. His lyrics are like a dentist’s probe, poking and prodding each tooth. When he finds a soft spot, he lingers: digging in, studying the decay.

In his most recent project, Bazan, whose former projects include Pedro the Lion and Headphones, teamed up with a band of indie rock veterans including Will Johnson (Centro-matic) and Bubba and Matt Kadane (Bedhead and the New Year) to form Overseas. The self-titled album was released June 11 of this year on Undertow Records.

Bazan and Johnson split vocal duties on the album to great effect. Johnson’s songs float. His voice is gravelly yet delicate, stark yet musical.

On the album’s opening track “Ghost To Be,” his staccato vocal delivery in the verses interplays perfectly with the off-kilter drumbeat and meandering guitars, creating layers that never quite line up but instead dance around each other, creating an airy, wide-open space.

In Bazan’s songs, his lyrics and voice stand front and center. His deep drone digs its way into your head and sinks deep into your gut. In the song “Down Below,” Bazan points to our avoidance of self-examination, of looking closely at our beliefs, our relationships: “Don’t look in the mirror / don’t dare write it down / if someone tells you the truth / don’t keep them around.”  Bazan’s judgement hits hard. He is prodding you, doing his best to make you uncomfortably introspective.

Those familiar with Bazan’s career are keenly aware of his move from Christian to non-Christian. The song “HELLP” is a beautiful, brash, and heartbreaking reflection on losing faith. He sings over a distorted bass: “If God made the world / God makes mistakes.” Musically, this song is one of the simplest on the album, with a straight drum beat, a guitar picking chords, and a heavy distorted bass. The melody and lyric are laid bare and the simplicity punches you in the gut.

Bazan ends the song, “I don’t need your sympathy / or your H.E.L.L.P,” simultaneously pushing well wishers and evangelists away while casting his personal judgement on the belief system he has rejected.

The album works as a cohesive unit with Bazan and Johnson’s vocal performances, complementing one another beautifully. While I may not agree with many the album’s conclusions, Overseas self-titled is worthy of our attention. It challenges the audience to dig deeper, to shed the shells we build around ourselves, and to finally pay attention to the cavities that have been developing deep inside us.

You can hear a few songs and purchase the album here.

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