Underrated and Overlooked #6: David Bazan “Curse Your Branches”

October 27, 2015

bazan

Have I really not written one of these since 2012? If I have, I don’t remember; but you can read the last one I remember doing by clicking here and from there you can link back to see all of them.

I only stumbled on this album recently. I first heard of this record reading Jessica Hopper’s wonderful “First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” in which she includes an essay she published following Bazan and his break from faith when on tour with a Christian rock festival. I had heard some of Bazan’s work with his “Pedro the Lion” band years ago but none of it had ever really clicked with me as even then I wasn’t much for “Christian rock”. I did however notice how outside of the box  Bazan was in that he wasn’t the typical Christian rocker in terms of lyrical content or language.

“Curse Your Branches” was first released in 2009 and it is phenomenal and heartbreaking. It’s really a break-up album but not in the “divorce album” tradition–no, this a portrait of a man breaking up with God, or rather breaking up with his belief in God. Bazan spent his life in religious circles, presumably evangelical ones and faith was deeply ingrained in everything he did and was. It seems he married a devout like-minded Christain, was raising Christian children and performing in a Christian band when he had a crisis of faith and ultimately stopped believing in God. This in turn led to deep and excessive levels of drinking and deep soul-searching. “Curse Your Branches” is his Psalms. It is his struggle when the core of his identity is stripped bare. I don’t think the average person with a casual relationship with religion can understand the level of heartbreak that can manifest when one who lives, studies, practices and intertwines  religion into their very being and all of their everyday experiences suddenly finds that faith and religion stripped from them. Suddenly the very community they were a part of and the identity they thought they had is gone. The hopes they had for this life and the next are gone. What was home is no longer home. To really believe then to question then to not believe is more often painful than liberating.

Bazan purges all of that in the songs here. It’s beautiful and tragic. Whether he’s drunkenly looking over his infant child in the wee hours (“Bless This Mess” hoping she won’t soon “hate the smell of booze” on his breath “like her mother”), wondering how to answer the big questions those children have (“In Stitches” , ” “Bearing Witness”)or laying blame on a creator for mankind’s faults (asking did You push us “When we Fell”) Bazan is boldly seeking answers in his fear and hope. He details the struggle his crisis may have on others, fearing his mother’s tears when she learns of his disbelief (“When We Fell”) and that his doubt will spread like “original sin” to his “kids and devout wife” (“Harmless Sparks”). Bazan traces us through his graduation and distancing from his family (“Hard to Be”) and envisions a future when his children may make the same mistakes (“Please Baby Please”). He rages against the indifference of the world for not letting us call our own shots (“Curse Your Branches”) and closes everything out with his most heartbreaking song, “In Stitches” where he hears the voice of the long dead captain in a ship left out at sea. Its certainly not all sad and even in its sadness it’s defiant and comfortingly human. “Bearing Witness” takes back the language of his childhood to reconfigure it as solid advice for his own children  and there are hints of possibility in even the saddest corners here. Bazan’s voice and acoustic guitar may not be ground-breaking or exceedingly “excellent” but they are more than serviceable and their imperfections really make these words come to life even more.

A great record that deserves a wider audience. I’m sure many of Pedro’s fans grew into their own crisis of faith and if so they could have worse guides struggling through to make sense of what comes after faith than Bazan. You can find “Curse Your Branches” currently on Apple Music (but not Spotify) and I’m sure it was pressed as CD–not sure about vinyl though I’ll keep my eyes open for it if so in the future.

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