Curse Your Branches is the first full length solo release by former Pedro the Lion and Headphones front man David Bazan. A perfect follow up to 2006’s Fewer Moving Parts EP, Bazan is at the height of his talent here. If you are not familiar with his previous work, Bazan sang volumes about the dark side of being a Christian: profanity, sin, gun toting and whatnot. This gained him a large religious following. Somewhere around the time Pedro the Lion broke up in 2005, Bazan must have grown tired of being treated like some sort of prophet. This new record is straight up agnostic and also his most autobiographical to date.
Bazan comes out swinging with “Hard To Be.” It blends the triumphant synths from his work with Headphones and the folk-like rock reminiscent of Pedro the Lion, without sounding overtly like either. The song really sets the tone for the entire record: ethics, religion and self-doubt. With lyrics like “It’s hard to be/a decent human being” followed by “wait just a minute/you expect me to believe/that all this misbehaving/grew from one enchanted tree” you learn that David Bazan is poignant, insightful, and deeply affecting. Bazan has a knack for not coming across as preachy and his matter of fact delivery makes you hang on every word.
But there is more to this record than God; there are drunken narratives and family dysfunction. “Bless This Mess” tells the story of addiction and alcoholism. “Through a darkened mirror I have seen/my own reflection and makes me want to be a better man/after another drink”. With his trademark dark humor and incredible arrangements, Bazan knows how to make light of bad situations.
The album’s highlight is the country skip of “Please Baby Please”, another tale of an intoxicated Bazan coming home wasted to the horror of his baby daughter and wife. There is even a shout out to Atlanta in there. Surprisingly it’s quite a sing along.
Musically this record is so exciting. It doesn’t really break a medium pace but is deceptively upbeat. The last three years of touring have made David Bazan an engaging entertainer and an unbelievable songwriter.
Usually when a singer breaks from a band and makes a solo record it sounds like a half-hearted attempt at his former outfit. Not David Bazan. This new sound is leaps and bounds from anything he has ever done, a reinvention for sure. Check out the Stones-like strut of “When We Fell”. Even the slow numbers like “Lost My Shape” with a droning organ and pedal steel that make this record endearing. “You used to feel like a drinker/20 days off the sauce/down at the liquor store/trying to call your sponsor.” Yeah, that’s called brilliant folks.
The slow closer “In Stitches” really shows Bazan at his best with verses like “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/or you might have bit off/more than you can chew.” Wow.
Maybe this is what happens when an artist’s cynicism finally gets the best of them. It’s no doubt that David Bazan’s pure honesty makes him one of the most gifted artists of our time. A true songsmith and storyteller, I’m sure the best is yet to come. If you are a fan of Iron and Wine, Conor Oberst or Red House Painters you owe it to yourself to buy this record.
It’s my top pick of 2009. You heard it here first.