Plumbiferous Media

Curse Your Branches – David Bazan

Sep 6th 2009
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Curse Your Branches - David BazanDavid Bazan
Curse Your Branches
Score: 79

David Bazan, frontman of the now-dissolved indie group Pedro the Lion, is now working as a solo artist following both that group and his second, short-lived group Headphones. His first full-length album as a solo artist, Curse Your Branches, is a generally successful combination of Bazan’s experience with each of his earlier groups as well as his own creativity.

On Curse Your Branches, Bazan has expertly mixed electronic and acoustic instruments, starting on the first track, “Hard to Be,” which immediately pairs up nearly formless synth with well defined piano chords. And not only are instruments mixed with each other well, but instruments are also given their place to show themselves clearly, including the percussive intro which transitions cleverly into the first main section of “When We Fell.” The bass also gets an especially large space in which to show itself: the entirety of “Heavy Breath,” in which the bass acts, often alone, to keep the entire track engaging.

David Bazan’s voice works beautifully with the subtle instrumentals on Curse Your Branches, creating a rolling sound, the basis for the storytelling aesthetic of the album which Bazan has so obviously mastered. An impressive grasp of pitch and a variety of vocal styles adds to this effect, giving further detail to both Bazan’s voice and the album as a whole. Thanks to this, his voice never falls into repetitive patterns and is instead imbued with a variability which allows it to flow both above and among the music to create the immersive experience of Curse Your Branches.

Bazan has perfectly tailored the lyrics of Curse Your Branches to fit with his vocal style, creating tale-filled lines which, along with Bazan’s consideration of religion, give the album an impressive degree of meaning. At the opening of the album, on “Hard to Be,” a retelling of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, Bazan sings “And helpless to fight it / We should all be satisfied / With this magical explanation / For why the living die,” in a tongue-in-cheek “acceptance” of the story. As Bazan’s religious views have shifted over his career, so has the way he’s dealt with religion – and the reflection on Curse Your Branches is among Bazan’s most interesting. But religion doesn’t occupy the entirety of Curse Your Branches. Bazan hasn’t abandoned the often morose but always well-written anecdotes from his earlier work, culminating in “In Stitches,” which includes the beautifully image-filled “My body bangs and twitches / Ill-sprung liquor wets my tongue / My fingers find the stitches / Firmly back and forth they run.”

But while Bazan does create individual, extremely strong elements such as vocals, instrumentals, and lyrics, he most excels at combining elements perfectly. “Bless This Mess” is a perfect example; it uses what actually amounts to rather dense layering, and yet it still manages to sound light enough to remain easily accessible. “Bearing Witness”‘s beautifully counterpuntal and harmonizing guitar and bass lines also clearly exemplify Bazan’s skill.

Curse Your Branches has very few weak sections. A small collection of tracks are slightly over-repetitive or lengthy, but every other track ranges from “quite good” to “excellent,” and most fall closer to the latter. Throughout Curse Your Branches, Bazan combines complex layering with pleasant simplicity, traditional religion with personal belief, and expert instrumental lines with masterful vocals. Curse Your Branches is a beautifully played, constructed, and recorded album.

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