David Bazan, Curse Your Branches
Pedro the Lion struggles with a crisis of faith on the most affecting album of his career
The problems with Christian rock are myriad, but at the center of the issue is the fact that most religious music is about an ethos that has already been decided upon, and the best rock music should be about asking questions. Dave Bazan spent 15 years espousing his faith as Pedro the Lion, and while he has rarely been bogged down by the natural pitfalls involved when marrying faith to the quiet desperation of first-generation emo, his records have more often than not been so much about the words that the music suffers. Even his crowning moment, Achilles Heel, felt short on tunes.
But Bazan's new album Curse Your Branches, his first released under his government name, makes a profound case for letting the devil in every now and again. Not only is it his most poetic and lyrically complex album, but it also delivers a sense of tunefulness and grit that he has never tapped into before. A humming stew of roots rhythms, organs, slide guitars and Bazan's slightly fractured voice, combined with lively production that is loose without feeling shambling, Curse Your Branches takes wannabe folk tunes like "When We Fall" and "Bearing Witness" and turns them into shimmering Americana that recalls the best of Neil Young or the Band.
Though he's further embraced the devil's music, Bazan isn't sacrificing goats or anything. He's merely a guy suddenly addicted to asking questions, even if it means challenging the maker himself. On the title track — the album's gorgeous centerpiece and the key lyric — Bazan sings, "Why are some hellbent upon there being an answer/While some are quite content to answer 'I don't know'?" before hitting the chorus, "All fallen leaves should curse their branches/For not letting them decide when they should fall/And not letting them refuse to fall at all." It's not the petulance of a kid experimenting with his first pentagram. Rather, it's the grown-up musings of a man still trying to sort things out. And he's not trying to tackle the universe — he simply wants to figure out his own life. As Curse Your Branches proves, a little sympathy for the devil goes a long way.