To a nonbeliever—or to those unfamiliar with the evangelical beliefs that defined the first 30 years of David Bazan's life—Curse Your Branches sounds as if it were written by a man who has made up his mind about God. The album is Bazan's first full-length since the breakup of popular Christian indie-rock band Pedro the Lion in 2005, and he's not holding back his feelings about the religion that launched his career. The opening track, "Hard to Be," calls out the book of Genesis and the very idea of original sin as bullshit: "Wait just a minute/You expect me to believe/That all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?" On "When We Fell," perhaps the album's clearest statement of Bazan's new beliefs, he credits God with causing the fall of man.
Even at his most vengeful, though, Bazan hasn't made up his mind about God. If anything, these songs are admissions that he doesn't know what to believe anymore. The skepticism of his lyrics is contrasted with richer instrumentation, giving Curse Your Branches more dimension than Pedro the Lion material. The super-slow, drawn-out drumbeats and sparse guitars are replaced with swirling chords and Paul Simon–style pianos. The keys on "In Stitches" are played so intensely it sounds like the piano is crying.
There's a reason why the album is mournful: Bazan is grieving his lost faith and carrying heavy guilt over renouncing God. It may take him a lifetime—or a career—to work that out but, sonically, he made the right choice: His voice is stronger and clearer as a skeptic than it ever was as a believer.
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