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Bazan continues to grow with “Branches”

October 28, 2009

David Bazan
Curse Your Branches
August 31, 2009

Rating: 8.1/10

Over the past decade-plus David Bazan has created a staggering collection of music. His work as Pedro the Lion, and to a lesser extent with Headphones, has established him as an indie-rock stalwart.

Curse Your Branches is Bazan’s first proper full-length as a solo artist, and what a start it is.

Barsuk timed the release of this album perfectly with the coming of Fall. Throughout this album, as the title would suggest, Bazan sings of trees, leaves and their descent from branches to the ground.

Listening to this album, at surface level, feels like the perfect autumn album. His soothing voice cry’s out sweetly over the guitar on the title track:

Falling leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all

His autumnal imagery is spread out across the album, backed by muted guitar tones and up-tempo rhythm, it creates a wonderful aesthetic: like a warm pair of socks in October.

However, beneath the surface of his warm tones, David Bazan seems to be communicating something much colder than autumn.

Pedro the Lion was well known for the religious themes that ran throughout the narratives of their music. Bazan, in fact, studied at a Pentecostal liberal arts school in Washington state prior to forming the band.

On Curse Your Branches, however, the seed of agnosticism begins to creep in to Bazan’s work.

In the opening song, “Hard to Be,” he makes it clear the tree he is referencing is the tree of knowledge, from which original sin comes from. The song title itself tackles the issue of how it is “hard to be” decent, moral and upright in the sense that God would expect.

His confliction turns more toward anger in the song “When We Fell,” as he points the finger directly at God.

What am I afraid of?
Who did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way?
If you knew what would happen
And you made us just the same
Then you my Lord can take the blame

His message is deep and full of agnostic vexation, but it’s set to a four-chord blues-rock progression and a sweeping rhythm makes the tone much lighter than the subject matter would demand.

Curse Your Branches is irreverent and fun to listen to, the most pertinent example of this is the song “Bless This Mess,” which is as lighthearted as its title would suggest. On “Harmless Sparks” Bazan takes aim at the Catholic religion, pitting priests and nuns together “instead of breaking little boys hearts.”

Though it retains the light indie-pop spirit and narrative storytelling, this album is different than a typical Bazan album.

His enthusiasm for synthesizers and simple melodies is still present on this album, and if anything this is a step forward from Pedro the Lion. His solo debut, however, should not be confused for another Pedro the Lion album.

This album presents the idea of eternal damnation lightly, and you can’t help but enjoy Bazan’s own personal conflict of faith when they are put to song.

Bless This Mess
Hard To Be

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