Thursday, September 10, 2009

review: David Bazan Curse Your Branches

David Bazan: "Hard To Be"
David Bazan: "Bless This Mess"

The questioning of God in all forms on this album cannot be denied, but what David Bazan's
Curse Your Branches shows is that the transition from belief to unbelief and possibly back again is not simple. It’s not a lightswitch, it’s not an easy button. In fact, it’s painful, despairing, confusing, heartbreakingly awful for your daughter to ask about God and not know what to tell her, as in "In Stitches." Then try “Bless This Mess” and “Hard To Be.” Both deal with decisions, family acceptance, family denial, and pervasive societal narratives. "Lost My Shape" is a slow plod that mentions drinking and worry over denying God, full of metaphors about lost causes. Bazan in Pedro the Lion was never the perfect premise of optimism, but most of this is dark even by his standards. But all of Bazan's musings are marks of someone who takes belief and then the declaration of unbelief seriously.

Bazan asks questions that every human being finds themselves asking at one point or another--but Bazan is bold or stupid enough to bring them into his art. Honesty has never been something he has struggled with. But now his brutal truth brings his beliefs to the forefront--Bazan (like the similarly misunderstood Daniel Smith of Danielson) had his first album released on a christian record label, back when that label Tooth and Nail took chances they could not fathom now. That decision has been more of a hindrance than a help for Bazan and his many critiques of Christianity over the years. The Christian market has very defined limitations, least of those are its actual beliefs, but it’s more about marketing and image and style...the same elements that go into every successful act on any major label. In other words, no matter if Bazan was still as active in his Christian faith as any pastor, his general style and outlook would not be a fit. Which is why
Curse Your Branches matters.

With that in mind, none of Bazan’s songs stray far musically from his previous adventures, except songs like “When We Fell,” “Bearing Witness” and “Bless This Mess” contain an undeniable jaunty joy, more pep in Bazan’s steps. Is their glee here? A hint of smirk? Possibly. Or it’s the culmination of more of his solo work, with some dabblings in classical country stylings--unlike the more modern rock element of
Control for instance.

Similar metaphors, such as the garden of Eden, the captain of a ship, having and developing children, original sin. All of these Bazan obsesses over in
Curse Your Branches, with the most definitive answer coming in the title track:
“Oh, falling leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all”

Perhaps Bazan is not as frustrated at God, but just the process used in making people decide about God. Maybe grace and understanding is needed. Any who may be celebrating over Bazan's decision to seemingly reject his Christian beliefs are not listening close enough--in many ways, it's missing the point. Again, in “Curse Your Branches” Bazan asks:
“Red and orange, or blue and yellow
In which of these do you believe?
If you're not sure right now,
Please take a moment
I need your signature before you leave”

Some will be sure and definitive in their beliefs all their lives. Others need time and patience. I’m not sure where Bazan is, and it’s not up for me to decide. He’s asking questions, making his beliefs real. Asking questions that atheists, agnostics, Christians and other religious adherents need to ask. But
Curse Your Branches shows the often thin line between belief and unbelief.


  1. great post. i thought many of the same things about david bazan and a few other artists who seem to struggle/ask question about faith.

    it takes a certain amount of bravery to be open and honest about faith/doubt. and in doing so, could alienate a lot of in the "Christian music" bubble much the same way in using foul language does.

    it is a healthy thing to do to break down one's beliefs and look at the core and see what it is we believe and why we believe that. and that is something that a pharisaical mind won't allow.

    the final sentence is key, 'But Curse Your Branches shows the often thin line between belief and unbelief.'

    have you seen this interview from relevant?

  2. thanx, i'll check out that interv.


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