DAVID BAZAN Curse Your Branches (Barsuk)
Remember, Pedro the Lion? I do. Listening to PtL’s dark songs about power, corruption & lies with lyrics like ““you were too busy steering the conversation toward the lord/ To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the fuck up” in Foregone Conclusions (off Achilles’ Heel), I never got the impression that PtL was your typical “Christian” band.
So how come the bulk of the press focus for the full length debut album of Bazan (the voice and brains behind PtL) is centred on Bazan’s recent crisis of faith then? Especially when a cursory glance at the lyrics of the songs on Curse Your Branches reveals an ongoing pre-occupation with the God that Bazan claims to no longer believe in. Does it really matter? Who really knows what is going on in someone’s heart and soul?
Sure, we have such priceless pearls of wisdom as – “wait just a minute/you expect me to believe/that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree and helpless to fight it/we should all be satisfied with this magical explanation for why the living die and why it’s hard to be/hard to be, hard to be a decent human being” off the opening Hard To Be.
No better way to set the tone for Bazan’s “descent” into sacrilege, surely.
On the title track, Bazan appears to be railing at his creator when he cries – “all fallen leaves should curse their branches for not letting them decide where they should fall and not letting them refuse to fall at all”. Similarly on “When We Fell”, Bazan questions – “if you knew what would happen and made us just the same then you , my lord, can take the blame”.
You get the gist. On the closing In Stitches, Bazan sums up his current state of mind – “i might as well admit it/like i even have a choice/the crew have killed the captain/but they still can hear his voice/a shadow on the water/a whisper in the wind/on long walks with my daughter/who is lately full of questions/about you”.
Highly personal & confessional lyrics are what we all look for in our tortured singer-songwriters, isn’t it? And Bazan has certainly delivered, laying his soul bare for all to view. Doesn’t help when the music (a fine blend of country-folk-rock, electronic touches and muscular in-your-face performances – mainly by Bazan himself) is some of the most affecting, pleasing alt-rock you’re probably going to hear in 2009.
Hard to highlight favorites as the entire album deserves full attention but I would say that tracks like the rollicking Bearing Witness (that recalls Elvis Costello), the harrowing folksy Please, Baby, Please, the ethereal Neil Young-channeling Lost My Shape and of course, the spine tingling closer, In Stitches, do leave me opened mouth, misty-eyed and awed.
Yes, the back story to Curse Your Branches does give its material resonance and relevance, but beyond that as a reviewer I choose to take the album at its own merits and on that basis, it is a well-crafted musical work, with lyrical concepts that require further study and songs that bear repeat plays for maximum enjoyment. In other words, an album that amply demonstrates the Power of Pop…
My highest recommendation.