Review Summary: Formerly Pedro the Lion, David Bazan abandons his faith and writes the best record of his career.
It seems a long time ago that David Bazan was the bad boy of Christian music. Which is not to say that the music he made with his former band Pedro the Lion
readily resembles much of the output of the Christian music industry. Or even to suggest that he was part of said industry in any way, shape or form. But Bazan was never shy about his faith, and simultaneously never shy about taking on difficult topics through songwriting that was sometimes personal but often centred around fictional characters dealing with everyday struggles. Far from the stereotypical Christian songwriter, Bazan didn't seem to care who you were, what you believed or what you thought about him. Certainly, a typical Christian songwriter would never write lines like "you were too busy steering the conversation/toward the Lord to hear the voice of the Spirit/begging you to shut the *** up". When Bazan revealed in fairly recent interviews that he no longer considers himself a Christian and now considers himself an agnostic, the Christian fans of his music were saddened but it's doubtful that anyone was surprised.
It's strange that the loss of his perhaps most defining characteristic has yielded the best set of songs of Bazan's career. A recent Chicago Reader piece described Curse Your Branches
as a breakup album; Bazan's breakup with God and certainly, every song is about that subject. "Did you push us/When we fell?" he asks God on "When We Fell". And while Curse Your Branches
is probably the most conceptual record Bazan has ever written, it feels less like it than any Pedro the Lion release because it doesn't take the listener on any sort of journey. It begins with doubt , questioning and a hint of bittnerness and ends the exact same way.
Bazan's lyrics here are clever and personal, as is to be expected. Musically, the bouncy, mid-tempo, country-tinged arrangements of Bazan's earlier EP Fewer Moving Parts
are further developed and in almost every instance they work. The one misstep is the aforementioned "When We Fell", which is perhaps the most bitter song of the set. The understated acoustic version that Bazan was playing live in the lead-up to Curse Your Branches
was far more effective in delivering the emotion present in the lyrics. Much of that is lost in the up-beat bluesy arrangement of the album version. Still, the greatest asset Bazan has is his own blue-collar voice which is unique and perfect fit for the words and music. It's hard to imagine anyone else singing these songs.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding its creation, Curse Your Branches
is Bazan's best album to date. Over 10 years since the release of the first Pedro the Lion album, Bazan remains one of the most consistent, singular and interesting figures in indie rock.