Curse Your Branches

by Jeremy Gould

Album: Curse Your Branches
Artist: David Bazan
Label: Barsuk Records
Release Date: September 1, 2009
It seems as if the climate of David Bazan’s hometown, Seattle, has slowly seeped into his pen-each album that much more dreary, more introspective, but with the promise of potential harmony. With that said, it only makes sense that Bazan would write what may be the defining moment in a short, yet tumultuous career. Whether you agree or disagree with his theology, you cannot deny the artistry and songwriting loftiness that is Curse Your Branches. From his humble, but convincing beginnings in the much loved Pedro the Lion to the poet cynic simplifying only his moniker, Bazan grew from faith-based to faithless. Turmoil surrounds this one time cross bearer that to this day, has constructed a path many thought not possible in the beginning of his career.
Over the years, I have followed Bazan in the many incarnations he has offered up to his loyal fold. Bazan grew up a pastor’s kid, raised in a Christian home learning the Biblical fundamentals. With his tools intact, he began to create music that would reflect his thoughts, feelings and fears resulting in the celebrated Pedro albums. As a longtime fan, I had high hopes for this record and do believe Bazan has delivered his magnum opus.
While the Pedro album Control might have been his breaking point, Curse Your Branches is a reawakening. With his first musical output since his Fewer Moving Parts EP, David Bazan puts it all out for anyone to root through: direct challenges to God, doubts, cynical perspective-but never for show, it’s never conveyed in a manner that you feel like he has climbed on his own cross.
Various influences are evident throughout the record, including Paul Simon, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Bazan has a penchant for writing songs with deep lyrical content and infectious hooks. The emotion in Bazan’s voice seems well-earned, sincere and very well may be the key component to this record. Bazan questions both God and man in clear terms, not in saturated, enigmatic measures to later hide behind and deliver the cliched response of “Listeners deriving their own meaning.” One of the most prolific songwriters of this generation, Bazan is willing to defy what he was once so certain of. It plays as if you’re getting direct access to one’s inner sanctum of thought, those nagging things that are not normally articulated. Perhaps his lack of faith is his new statement of faith.
The first track ‘Hard to Be’ opens with a hypnotic keyboard melody that is eerily singular, almost an effort to warn you, “You may not like what you hear.” But the wondering immediately ends when he sings, “It’s hard to be a decent human being.” Bazan, although cerebral, chooses to go head-to-head with the Almighty numerous times throughout the record in the clearest of terms. A God-fearing person like myself can’t help but cringe at the honest yet forthright pursuit Bazan displays, only to respect and somewhat understand this route he has chosen. With songs that he has incorporated in his live set over the years, including ‘Please, Baby, Please,’ and ‘Harmless Sparks,’ Bazan uses his lyrics not to do damage, but more to ask “Is anybody else feeling this way?” The record culminates with a stab at God, in the song ‘In Stitches’ regarding the story of Job- the Bible’s poster boy for trials. Beginning with God’s question, “Who are you to challenge your creator?” and ending with David’s answer “It makes you sound defensive, like you had not thought it through, like you did not have an answer, or you had bitten off more than you could chew.”
With longtime collaborators T.W. Walsh (Pedro) and Blake Wescott (Bloomsday) in tow, Bazan continues to produce quality from start to finish. Filler would have been an insult to this lofty effort. With Bazan playing the majority of the instruments, he chooses to display his most ambitious song structure, deceptively simple, but lushly layered. It’s especially interesting that he had his father, David H. Bazan, play piano on the record’s closing track.
This record will delight many and confirm what others hope to not be true. I tend to lean towards the delighted, but hope Mr. Bazan has not ended his search.