I have followed David Bazan for the past 12 years. From Pedro the Lion, to his electronic detour as Headphones, back to Pedro the Lion, and finally as a solo artist under his birth name. For these dozen years the only constants have been that Bazan wrote good songs, and that he wrote good songs about Jesus. And while his narration viewed life through countless pairs of sad eyes—offering perspectives seldom associated with the creatively impoverished spiritual music community—those were the two things you could count on from each and every album from the bearded Seattle songwriter. That is, until Curse Your Branches, when Bazan killed God.
A former member of the Tooth & Nail label's flock and a Christian music icon—not to mention a cornerstone of, well, Cornerstone, the Christian music festival—Bazan was the closest thing to a modern-day Larry Norman. He established a cynical and troubled voice, yet never strayed from the shadow of the cross. While his songs grew dark with tales of murder, infidelity, and callous deception, Bazan was ultimately still a man who found grace in the eyes of the lord, a lifted soul with a penchant for making his faith known without ever forcing the issue. Then Curse Your Branches happened.
The album opens simply enough: "You've heard the story, you know how it goes/Once upon a garden we were lovers with no clothes," but from there Bazan's apprehension is no longer muted, as a life of devotion turns to doubt and disillusionment. There are countless breakup records, but few, if any, center on the messy split with a spiritual deity or the shunning a life of hardwired ideology. The ramifications echo throughout Branches. "If my mother cries when I tell her what I have discovered/Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart/And if you bully her like you've done me with fear of damnation/Then I hope she can see you for what you are," sings Bazan on "When We Fell," one of many emotionally crippling songs scattered throughout the album. It's at this point you realize how rough the divorce between God and man has been.
This openness is a newfound part of Bazan's role as a performer, one he demonstrates with Q&A sessions mid-concert, and a nationwide tour of living rooms that has been ongoing throughout the year. "I've played 71 house shows since February, and there's nine more in December," he explains, describing these intimate (invite-only) shows as "unbelievably pleasant." Considering the emotional turbulence that permeates Branches, it's a shock to see Bazan anywhere, be it onstage or in your living room. But, for Bazan, the severity of the situation is what he seeks out: "For me personally, certain moments do feel like, 'Couldn't you just, like, let up just a little bit on that?'... but when it comes down to writing a song, there's an itch there and I'm just trying to figure out how to scratch it."
When asked about the heavy topics that anchor Branches, Bazan is surprisingly candid, especially when it comes to his initial reservations about revealing too much about his spiritual collapse. "After I had written five or six songs, I did have some panic because I thought that writing a record about these topics in such a conventional manner was very uncool. Even though I think the economy of cool is a bankrupt way to go about anything, I still have a desire to be cool, and so I was worried." He continues, "But I got over that pretty quick because the songs just feel important to me, personally."