David Bazan - Curse Your Branches (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

David Bazan

Curse Your Branches (2009)


David Bazan is probably a polarizing figure around here, and there are two reasons for that. The first is that his music is not of the short, fast, and loud variety; Bazan plays folk rock songs that are slow, deliberate and melancholic. The second is that Bazan gained popularity under the name Pedro the Lion, where he sang about God through a Christian lens. While Bazan's musical style has not changed dramatically since dropping the Pedro moniker (though he has infused a greater pop sensibility than before), his perspective on the divine certainly has: Bazan now considers himself an agnostic. Curiously, his agnosticism has resulted in more religious themes than ever, but in a far more skeptical and -- depending on your viewpoint -- relatable form than previous efforts.

This is obvious on the first track, "Hard to Be," where Bazan references his leaving the Christian fold: "I swung my tassel to the left side of my cap, knowing after graduation there would be no going back and no congratulations from my faithful family, some of whom are already fasting to intercede for me." It's a touching moment referring to what is undoubtedly the biggest struggle for many people leaving any religion, and Bazan puts it right in his six-minute opening track -- a bold move for someone with a very large Christian fanbase. The new disc will challenge and perhaps alienate some of his old fans, as Bazan offers intelligent questioning of religious passages or commonly held beliefs. This is perhaps the greatest strength of Curse Your Branches, as Bazan's intricate knowledge of Christianity makes for far more insightful lyrics than the norm. Bazan is not so much taking a firm position as he is trying to provoke in his listener the same questions that he has found himself asking. For example, on the closing track "In Stitches," Bazan finishes the disc by singing "When Job asked you the question, you responded 'Who are you to challenge your creator?' Well, if that one part is true it makes you sound defensive, like you had not thought it through enough to have an answer. Like you might have bit off more than you could chew."

Religion is one of the two main recurring themes, the other being Bazan's personal struggles with the bottle and its effects on his family. Both are handled with great sincerity, the latter perhaps best seen on "Please, Baby, Please." In sharp contrast to the dark lyrics, "Please, Baby, Please" is the most upbeat tune on the disc, and arguably the catchiest song Bazan's ever recorded. It's a standout on the disc, with beautiful backing vocals and a nice bouncy acoustic guitar rhythm throughout. Another highlight that has to be mentioned is "Harmless Sparks," an absolutely heartbreaking track that proposes an alternate reality where priests are allowed to marry and have consensual sex, and giving the clergy this outlet for their natural sexual urges would result in them "making harmless sparks instead of breaking little boys' hearts."

If there's a weakness on the disc, it is perhaps that it's a bit top-heavy, as the latter half doesn't have quite the same impact as the first. But when that's the biggest complain that one can muster, you have to believe it's a very strong disc. Curse Your Branches is Bazan's strongest album since Pedro the Lion's Control. It's an intelligent, moving, and diverse album that showcases how strong of a songwriter he really is.