Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
It seems that we all tend to leverage our true beliefs most confidently against what we know to be hogwash, with pretty good certainty. We are willing to argue and flail against various statements and ideas if we feel them strongly enough, but it's hard to back up such philosophical and theological thoughts with hardened truth. It's not available. People claim miracles all the time and yet, there must be a part of everyone - it's okay to admit it - that must really hesitate to buy into the theory of that immaculate conception or the snake and all of the repercussions because of one lousy, good-lookin' apple hanging from a tree. David Bazan sings that he used to cling to miracles on his latest in a long line of gorgeous and thought-provoking albums, but once again the Seattle-ite offers his rebuttal to the Words and fictions in the Good Book, suggesting that all of it has been further blown out of proportion. On the opening song from the 10-song record, "Curse Your Branches," "Hard To Be" is a delightfully dark thesis that gives it to us point blank in no uncertain terms. The second verse, which Jessica Hopper (longtime writer for The Reader in Chicago, who was in the studio when Bazan stopped by for his third solo visit) also quoted in her detailed account of his appearance at the nearby Christian festival called Cornerstone, goes like this, "Wait just a minute/You expect me to believe/That all this misbehaving/Grew from one enchanted tree/And helpless to fight it/We should all be satisfied/With this magical explanation/For why the living die." It goes on to suggest that it's hard to be a decent human being, a thought that no one's arguing with, but so many would claim that the task is buttered a bit if you've given yourself wholly up to the man upstairs. It's this divine leading the blind mentality that Bazan questions over and over and he does so in such an even-handed way that he could never be damned for. "Curse Your Branches" is an album that still allows Bazan to contritely dive into these matters that are the basis for almost all wars and human cruelty. Even with the steadfast beliefs that people hold onto, Bazan sounds as if there's a desire or a willingness to hope that some of it isn't make-believe. He's not writing to try and dispel all of religion, but instead hoping to be proven wrong, maybe, as impossible as that is for someone who's still living. Validation can only really come upon the exit from these days, when the talking and the singing stops and the silence is either silent or it's a party. At that point, the "magical explanation" isn't just a story, it's history. But there are no experts - though many claim to be - who can offer any sort of guarantee and Bazan knows it. He feels it, even if he feels so much more - all of these conflicting feelings and doubts that keep him returning to these powerful and controversial ideas of salvation and God and those disciples. It might be the transformation that Bazan has taken over the years, to a point where his one-way interrogation of the gospel and its "teachings" has gotten more and more probing, to a point where he's kept receiving the wrong answers, or seen less to support the existence of those miracles and the existence of such profound faith and obedience. He takes us into the lives of numerous characters on "Curse Your Branches," who have seen the transformative effects of living, or leaving one person behind to become another variation of that original. There's the man in the heartrending song, "Please, Baby, Please," who is seeing it all come crashing down through the eyes of those he's cherished the most in his entire life - his wife and his daughter - both of whom will be leaving him, for different reasons. It's a song that guts you like so many Bazan songs, and it lets you off the wave fuzzy as well.
David Bazan Official Site