Curse Your Branches
Label: Barsuk Records
Seattle’s indie-rock troubadour, David Bazan is no stranger to change; having spent the last decade changing identities from the Christian-themed Pedro the Lion to the synth orchestra that was Headphones, Bazan has a rare talent for finding comfort in his constant reorganization. Having decided to drop monikers, he has released his first album under his own name, and although this change would suggest a more straightforward approach, Bazan manages to forge an even stronger identity with a diverse array of lovely compositions.
Bazan’s voice is low-slung and expandable, earning him some comparisons to Chris Martin, especially when he chooses to have a piano accompaniment. His voice, like Martin’s, is not classically trained, and so a lot of his attempts at singing feel a little less than perfect and occasionally damaged. However, much of the success of Curse Your Branches is due to this fallibility, such as on the title track, where his pained verse of “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,” showcases his wit and his metaphorical versatility, both of which he is famous for. The strain in his voice complements the soft piano and guitar duo, both acting like a net, catching his plunging heart. While Chris Martin’s songwriting sometimes borders on sap, Bazan shows a careful restraint and his precisely chosen words evoke the sentiment and empathy he attempts, without becoming too heavy handed or manipulative.
First single “Please, Baby, Please” is as overt as Bazan gets, and the acoustics pair wonderfully with a buried background wail that truly create a genuine moment of despair. The song features a deceptively upbeat guitar line, fleshing out the tale of an alcoholic reconciling his love of the drink with the love of his girl; it is perhaps the most earnestly distressing and moving moment on the album. “When We Fell” is a country-tinged rocker with electric guitar riffs, while “Bearing Witness” is a synth-led bluesy affair, both with lyrics covering a sort of failure or inability to accept doing the right thing. The lyrics overall on the album deal heavily with guilt and remorse, and Bazan’s sonic structures weave a conducive tapestry. As the title track suggests, fate (or faith) can be cruel and dismissive, and there’s nothing to be done.
“In Stitches” is a lovely, piano-driven and pain-soaked regret from Bazan, and a great finale to the album. The piano lead is accompanied by a subtle guitar, and as he raises his voice to almost a yodel while addressing a “you,” he inserts himself into familiar territory as he references the trials of Job as a way of condemning a woman who left him. In a way it’s a post-breakup song that has the dumped in despair, but without appealing overly manipulative. Bazan’s religious references ground the protagonist, and thus the song, in the mindset of a struggling depressive, making the hurt in his heart palpable, especially as the song drops out to a single piano line, fading to nothingness.
With Curse Your Branches, David Bazan has managed to forge himself a new, eponymous identity, without turning from any of his old successes. Although he may not be Pedro the Lion or Headphones, he still has the delicate sensibility for synths and the paradox of faith and wit. Bazan has created a record that acts much like a higher power; it questions and it dictates, but it does not provide answers or meaning, for those are yours to seek out. However with the stunning Curse Your Branches, Bazan has turned a new leaf yet again, and it can take on any color you choose.
by Rafael Gaitan