The same words are sung, but the intonation feels like a new language. That's the hope of a great cover song, so that it has its own movement and color. David Bazan has proven himself an understated interpreter with a distinct bent towards desperate intensity, from his early covers of Radiohead ("Let Down") and Nirvana ("Something in the Way") to more recent songs, like Protomartyr's "The Devil in His Youth" and The Long Winters' "The Commander Thinks Aloud." He likes to take on forebears and contemporaries, artists with whom his own music carries a conversation. This is why David Bazan's version of "Thread" by Now, Now feels something like a renewal.
The cover appears on volume eight of Kevin Devine's Devinyl Splits series, which has featured sides from Worriers, Tigers Jaw, Owen and Craig Finn. This particular pairing sees Devine and Bazan — both with at least a couple decades' experience making music — tackling one song each by the relatively younger Now, Now (Devine covers "Prehistoric"). With the sparkling pop of Saved still fresh in our ears (and perfect for summer playlists), this revisit of material from 2012's Threads not only serves as a reminder of the band's breakthrough but also of its generation-spanning emotional imprint.
If "Thread" originally teased out the frayed ends of a relationship with a downcast indie-rock bang, then Bazan brings the "needle dragging thread" to its raging crisis. Setting aside the keyboards and electronics that he's fruitfully employed over the last five years, Bazan is in full-on rock mode here with the distortion dialed to despair. It's a sound not heard since 2011's Strange Negotiations, for sure, but the volume of his guitar, the reckless crash of drums, the way his voice cracks "to break the pattern forming between us" in the final minute's ecstatic climax — it reaches back and resurrects not only a name but a sonic sphere.
Ever since Bazan announced the return of Pedro the Lion last year, he's slowly eked out why and what that means: He had missed being in a band; he has been touring under that name again; he is working on loosely conceptual album that "pays homage to the town that I grew up in, Phoenix, Ariz." There's no band on this Now, Now cover — every instrument was recorded by Bazan (which, once again, proves his punk prowess on drums), but it still captures a welling warmth that comes from righteous fervor. "Thread," then, is a sympathetic leap back into Pedro the Lion without even using the name, exploring the distance of humanity to find out who he is. Let's watch it unravel.