Monthly Archives: February 2010

SIGH NO MORE by mumford & sons

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 2.1           Rolling Stone: N/A           Metacritic: 65           Spin: N/A

 

Released: October 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. Sigh No More
  2. The Cave
  3. Winter Winds
  4. Roll Away Your Stone
  5. White Blank Page
  6. I Gave You All
  7. Little Lion Man [LISTEN]

  8. Timshel
  9. Thistle & Weeds
  10. Awake My Soul
  11. Dustbowl Dance
  12. After the Storm

   I like folk, I like rock, and I like England. So when I was turned onto Mumford & Sons recently, I liked them. Although, the sound these four London lads produce sounds less like England and more like America, specifically the folk America of olden days that I can only guess of. Toting vests and button-down shirts, they seem to pay homage to more than just the music, in the process drawing similarities to CSN&Y, and perhaps Fleet Foxes too for doing the same. Their harmony-enriched melodies further the comparison, lead singer Marcus Mumford’s voice, given the right emphasis, sometimes almost a brother to Foxes’ frontman Robin Pecknold.

   The “rock” categorization benefits the true definition of the genre, referring not to electric guitars and cymbal crashes, but to the true energy that exudes from an artist when passionately diving into their own music. The excitement of that energy doesn’t translate the same for every kind of music, but in this listener’s ears, it serves some of its best results in the folk arena. Most songs from their debut effort, meager as some begin, reach a place at some point where that passion takes over, causing a sort of anthemic overdrive from all four on their instruments in a display not far from that seen in one of the best folk-rock examples, The Avett Brothers.

   Sigh No More opens with its title track, a light guitar plucking entering in followed by full-bodied harmonizing led by Mumford singing, “Serve God, love me and men/ This is not the end/ Live unbruised we are friends/ And I’m sorry/ I’m sorry,” the last lines crescendoing into a heartfelt bellow that one hopes forshadows the aforementioned display of excitement. It does, as the second half of the song takes a lyrically powerful stanza and repeats it three times, each time the emotion and music, aided by organ, bass, banjo and percussion, pounding more forcefully: “Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you/ It will set you free/ Be more like the man you were meant to be/ There is a design, an alignment to cry/ At my heart you see/ The beauty of love as it was made to be.”

   Continuing in the theme of hope and meaning behind human improvement, upcoming third single “The Cave” (video below) sees Mumford mellowly attacking a catchy hook about empty hearts and barren harvests before the rest join in for the uplifiting chorus, guitar and piano taking a backseat to the often primary vocals. A short instrumental bridge showcasing some impressive banjo verifies the aggressive and heavy pace that’s yet to come. When it does come a bit later, the intensity is passionate and forceful enough to make you believe the floorboards are reverberating right there beneath your feet, the band singing, “But I will hold on hope/ And I won’t let you choke/ On the noose around your neck/ And I’ll find strength in pain/ And I will change my ways/ I’ll know my name as it’s called again.”

   Another powerhouse of Sigh No More, voted #1 on a 100 Hottest of 2009 list by listeners of a prominent Australian station, is “Little Lion Man”. Listen for yourself (above), and I’ll let Marcus Mumford describe the song in his own words: “I guess the sound of it grabs you a little bit by the balls – it’s quite an aggressive song, a bit more of a punch in the face. Or at least, for our stuff anyway – a lot of our stuff isn’t as hard-hitting as that. It felt like the right song to be the single because it represented the harder, darker side of what we do, and at the same time, the more folksy and punchy side.”

   There’s a larger handful to admire on this album than just the ones mentioned, notably second single “Winter Winds”. Truly, no songs seem out of place, or somehow unworthy among others. What works for this promising (relatively) new band is the sincerity and honesty behind the words they sing, a characteristic that shines through in the music too. Mumford explains the effect of lyrics on their songs: “For me, personally, it’s the lyrics that I listen to again and again in a song. I place specific importance on them. I can’t write lyrics unless I really feel them and mean them.” Whatever life experiences have brought Mumford & Sons the lyrics behind Sigh No More and the inspired music that followed, it’s certainly served them well so far.

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UP FROM BELOW by edward sharpe & the magnetic zeros

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 4.1            Rolling Stone: 3/5            Metacritic: 66            Spin: N/A

 

Released: July 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. 40 Day Dream
  2. Janglin’
  3. Up from Below
  4. Carries On
  5. Jade
  6. Home [LISTEN]

  7. Desert Song
  8. Black Water
  9. Come in Please
  10. Simplest Love
  11. Kisses over Babylon
  12. Brother
  13. Om Nashi Me

   It’s been less than a week since I’ve known of the band Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and I almost forgot how I stumbled upon them in the first place. It’s not that I’ve floored my way through their debut album, Up from Below, so many times that I feel as though I’ve been a fan for a year. I feel that way because of the music. That’s a little vague, but it’s hard to describe human connection to music and what it can sometimes do to you. Despite the pretty epic introduction so far, the one and so far only album from this unique, little big band isn’t a complete home run, but it does offer a memorable listening experience for those who enjoy folk, pop, or rock of the classic or indie persuasion.

   Part of the initial attraction stems from the ensemble cast that comprises the band. The group is fronted by Alex Ebert and, not, in fact, Edward Sharpe, the messianic figure Ebert thought up who “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind…but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” Further attraction comes by way of sometimes second singer Jade Castrinos, whose now and then back-and-forth with Ebert does much to a song’s appeal, the romance between the two almost audible at times (and if not audible, certainly visual when you see them play live). She boasts a great voice, slightly deep for a girl, and she’s beautiful and has good style and smiles a lot. I may be developing a crush.

   The song that first drew me in and won me over was opener “40 Day Dream” (live video below), starting in with a simple clap-your-hands beat and old-timey strings, Ebert’s voice entering like a quirkier, pitchier Win Butler: “I’ve been sleeping for forty days and/ yeah I know I’m sleeping cause this dream’s too amazing.” He pauses and accents sporadically while still remaining melodic, carrying into the piano-pounding chorus: “Ah, it’s the magical mystery kind/ Ah, must be a lie/ Bye bye, to the too good to be true kind of love/ Ooohh, I could die/ Ohh now, I could die.” Admittedly, I give extra points to artists that incorporate “magical mystery” into any song. Before a closing chorus finale, Ebert and the rest of the gang join together for some harmonized “oohhs” and “aahhs”, and judging by the looks of them on the album cover, they look to be just the kind of people I’d like to hear group singing from.

   They’re apparently also proficient group whistlers, as demonstrated by another obvious hit: track #6’s “Home”. It’s a folky, Western-themed tune that combines an impressive whistle with catchy guitar licks, tambourine, post-chorus trumpet solos, and a rousing “Hey!” after every four measures. Castrinos starts: “Alabama, Arkansas/ I do love my ma and pa/ Not the way that I do love you.” Ebert continues, “Holy moley, me oh my/ You’re the apple of my eye/ Girl I’ve never loved one like you.” The back-and-forth dynamic comes to an album high when, just prior to the final chorus, the couple talk their way through a friendly exchange using their real names. Him: “Jade.” Her: “Alexander.” Him: “Do you remember that day you fell outta my window?” Her: “I sure do. You came jumping out after me.” Him: “Well, you fell on the concrete, nearly broke your ass. You were bleeding all over the place and I rushed you out to the hospital, you remember that?” Her: “Yes I do.” Him: “Well there’s something I never told you about that night.” Her: “What didn’t you tell me?” Him: “While you were sitting in the backseat smoking a cigarette you thought was gonna be your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you, and I never told you til just now.”

   Focusing on just one more, closer “Om Nashi Me” is another gem. At over six minutes, it begins with a few catchy, playful piano chords, growing mercilessly with the addition of nearly every instrument at their disposal, reaching epic status a little over halfway through, just as the trumpet kicks in. Not lyric-heavy, it’s a slightly hypnotic song, the only lines sung over and over a combination of “Om nashi me,” “I love you,” “And I love you forever,” and “And I’m loving you now.”

   Really, Edward Sharpe is just another of many indie bands out there going for the large, ensemble, try-anything sound, just looking to have fun in the process. Some of these bands work better than others, but the draw to this one came more immediately than I’m used to. It’s a versatile album, Ebert’s vocals sometimes going to quick, excited high bursts, and other times to low, drawn-out, Grizzly Bear-ish serenades. They don’t seem to possess any annoying instruments, members, or self-important lyrics either. Without taking themselves too seriously, they remain passionate about their music. If you sound good doing it, what else is there?

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AMERICAN ARCHETYPES by jimmy o’keefe and friends

by Sean




Released: 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. The Devil Speaks to Mary 3 [LISTEN]

  2. The Insomniacs Song 1 [LISTEN]

  3. The Sleep Fairy [LISTEN]

  4. Mugged Blues 2 [LISTEN]

  5. Property Lines [LISTEN]

  6. Blue Highway [LISTEN]

  7. What She Said to Her Teacher [LISTEN]

  8. Sunny Babe [LISTEN]

  9. Alleyway Monologue [LISTEN]

  10. Prescriptions 3 [LISTEN]

  11. The Old Days 4 [LISTEN]

   Do you like folk music, America, and/or whiskey? Good, then you’ll love this album. There’s a good chance that you have no idea who Jimmy O’Keefe is, but this 20 year old from the county, in the middle of Maryland, has produced one of the most mature, and best folk albums you will hear this year. Borrowing from the Dylans, Youngs, Cashs, and even Neutral Milks of the past, Jimmy O’Keefe has molded the tried and true formulas into something of his own.

   American Archetypes starts with the fingerpicking introduction of “The Devil Speaks to Mary 3”. O’Keefe sings, “I had a conscience that lingered in the air and I ran from it everyday/ I’d hear my father’s voice calling from somewhere but his wisdom had nothing good to say/ And between Albany and Houston the snow turned into rain/ Starry eyed before the storm I pledged allegiance to my pain”. This is only the beginning of the words from what sounds like a man looking back on his life in a prison-like state, wanting to retreat from not only his physical location, but also from his own head. The song ends “Now do you think they’ll end me swiftly off the books before the dawn?/ And maybe you can’t see them but my chains are never gone”. This chilling finale is the start of the haunting stamps to be placed on many of the works of American Archetypes.

   So you wanna talk about whiskey? Okay. “But if you smell the roses on his teeth/ Then meet the sterile whiskey on his breath/ You know all the words you would sober speak/ But not the things he’d say about his death”. What would Americana folk music be without whiskey? Probably non-existant. “The Sleep Fairy” introduces America’s favorite drink along with a chorus aided by keyboard-laden strings. “And if your father’s blessed with shame”… “Now the devil’s drinking whiskey like its turpentine/ While the Saints pour all their blood into their fickle-bellied wine/ Well maybe they could all drink to my memories/ While I do what I do best, drinking ’til I can’t see”. Along with the themes of alcoholism, we start to see father issues akin to those with another talented modern-day folk artist, Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve Earle. And as you continue reading, and hopefully listening, you’ll realize a theme in this review: These lyrics are really fucking good and almost unbelievably mature from this Southern Maryland college student.

   “Property Lines” is one of the staples of American Archetypes, while repeating only two chords throughout the entire song. These two chords are accompanied by atmospheric background guitar work along with appealing lyricism with every line ending in “visions of heaven and hell”. My personal favorite run, written as follows: “Don’t you go confiscating my cocaine lines/ You don’t need me to tell you these are some trying times/ And if you wanna know what really sells/ Then you’d give us something to numb as of our visions of heaven and hell/ And don’t you go cuttin’ in those customs lines/ What’s mine will be mine and what’s yours will be mine/ And if you have a memory then you go and tell/ Your leaders to adopt their visions of heaven and hell/ And don’t you go crossing no church and state lines/ My Christian country is just about to reach its prime/ And if you wanna know how the Romans fell well, just examine their visions of heaven and hell”. This is an example of a song that may not catch your attention right away musically, but the lyrics are enough to keep you intently interested for multiple listens.

   “What She Said to Her Teacher” is the only song on the album which gives drums and bass a prominent piece of the action, and this is a well-placed change. This tune features a quick pace, upbeat bass line, and sprawling sporadic guitar solos. Just as soon as you get into this change of pace, the song is over and leads right into the much slower love song, “Sunny Babe”.

   Perhaps the best two-song run on American Archetypes are its two closers, “Prescriptions 3” and “The Old Days 4”. The beginning of “Prescriptions” has a very 60’s-soul feel to it, which is a prelude to the upcoming questions the troubled speaker asks about Otis Redding and “why he left so soon”. About halfway through the guitar and bass soulful-quiet, O’Keefe’s solemn vocals are joined with pounding drums and reverb-drenched backing vocals, adding to the angst and desperation. “Prescriptions 3” ends, “And angels danced upon electric lines in a bright and calmly dim/ And Jesus laid my bed upon the train tracks, so I laid down for him”. This man has finally had enough, succumbing to the drugs and thoughts haunting his own mind. If there were an “epic” song on American Archetypes, this would be it.

   At first I thought “Prescriptions” would be the best way to end this record, but its hard not to want a little something more, and “The Old Days 4” is almost like a bonus track, or second closer. At 7 minutes, 46 seconds, “The Old Days” is calming, but not tiring. I would compare it to Iron and Wine’s “The Trapeze Singer”, in that it is simple, long, and repetitive, but captivating the whole way through. Once again, the lyrics and Jimmy’s gruff vocals are at the forefront, which is the only way American Archetypes should end: “Dancing with the indians, dancing with the devil/ And dancing with a face full of dried-up tears”.

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CASSADAGA by bright eyes

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 6.0            Rolling Stone: 4/5            Metacritic: 78            Spin: 4/5

 

Released: April 2007
Tracklisting:
  1. Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)
  2. Four Winds [LISTEN]

  3. If the Brakeman Turns My Way
  4. Hot Knives
  5. Make a Plan to Love Me
  6. Soul Singer in a Session Band
  7. Classic Cars
  8. Middleman
  9. Cleanse Song
  10. No One Would Riot for Less
  11. Coat Check Dream Song
  12. I Must Belong Somewhere
  13. Lime Tree

   If you or one of your friends hails from the indie scene, you’ve heard of Bright Eyes, the love-them-or-hate-them (often rotating) lineup, but moreso a moniker for frontman Conor Oberst. While not the epitome of indie rock, Oberst’s songwriting and unmistaken vocal style have long associated the musician with the genre (or what comes off as more of a movement when heard through the fervor of Oberst’s singing).

   I was a late bloomer when it came to Bright Eyes appreciation. At first, much like the show Lost, not only did I not appreciate them, I flat out rejected them. My freshman college roommate used to play the band in our dorm room, and I was literally offended by the attack of Oberst’s presence. There was an air of self-importance that I couldn’t stand…a sense for me that he was trying to sound indie (or however you’d classify it), not unlke Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy.

   A few years later, however, I gave a second chance to the artist when a good friend turned me onto a few of his favorites. I began to grow more comfortable with Oberst’s sound, and really clung to a few songs off of 2004’s Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. So when 2007 saw the release of Cassadaga, the most recent in a collection of over half a dozen albums (that I admittedly am not too familiar with), I had enough vested interest saved up to potentially really embrace the record. Fortunately, doing so was made all too easy by the singer/songwriter.

   Beginning with two minutes of crescendoing instrumentation and conversational audio clips, opening track “Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)” then settles into a beautifully melodic, calmly-paced, guitar-driven ballad, Oberst’s echoey vocals (more mellow than we’re used to) entering into what feels like a criticism of American government. Although I can’t say I fully get it, I just feel like agreeing with him as he sings, “Corporate or colonial/ The movement is unstoppable/ Like the body of a centerfold, it spreads/ To the counter-culture copyright/ Get your revolution at a lower price/ Or make believe and throw the fight, play dead.” As percussion and twangy country guitar join in, so does a full-bodied orchestration of strings, horns and woodwinds, turning the simple tune into an epic start to the lengthy album.

   Second track and single, “Four Winds”, is an upbeat folk rocker of a song, the familiar assertive vocal style of Oberst back on display, and opening with a full minute of violin solo that, although catchy and impressive, can’t help but remind me of the Christmas tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (any seconds on that?). It teems with religious themes (a commentary found throughout the album), with lines like, “The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qur’an’s mute/ If you burn them all together you get close to the truth.”

   “Hot Knives” is unmistakably the album’s loudest and most bad-ass track, an attitude from Oberst fully in sync with the darker but defiant musical tone, the pace and ferocity of the band’s playing commanding atention from start to finish. Again, never much of a lyrics man, I’m not entirely sure of Oberst’s sentiments throughout the song (there’s more religious undertones with lines like, “With the Son of God just hanging like a common criminal”), but I find myself singing along with equal fervor as Oberst proclaims, “Oh I’ve made love, yeah I’ve been fucked…so what?”, the instrumentation then breaking into a mayhem of aggressive country rock.

   On the complete other hand is album closer “Lime Tree”, the slowest, most mesmerizing track on Cassadaga, though not at all the least passionate. Opening with a slow guitar strum, Oberst emerges with what for him seem suppressed vocals, haunting strings and introspective lyrics adding to the dreamlike aura of the nearly six-minute song. Aided by the back-up of uncharacteristically angelic female singers during bursts of emphasis, a line like “Don’t be so amazing or I’ll miss you too much” echoes in your mind after the track has finished. It seems the audio counterpart to a dark evening’s boat ride with yourself, Oberst concluding the vision (and album) with, “I took off my shoes and walked into the woods/ I felt lost and found with every step I took.” Like much of Cassadaga, it feels like the thoughtful outpourings of an artist who, though confident in his ways and the ways of the world, can’t help but ponder how he and them got there in the first place.

   These are just four of the thirteen tracks found on Cassadaga, and most of those not mentioned serve as pleasant and agreeable fillers to the handful of truly remarkable songs, all unique, that pepper the album. On the whole, it’s one of the more inspired albums than what can be expected even from some of the best in the genre. While most others made their conclusions significantly earlier than I and with different material, Casadaga proved for me that Bright Eyes, aside from being capable of writing really good songs, is also capable of making really good albums. With one more expected from the group before Oberst closes the door and moves on, let’s hope it packs just as much punch.

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THE TRIALS OF VAN OCCUPANTHER by midlake

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 6.8           Rolling Stone: N/A           Metacritic: 79           Spin: N/A

 

Released: July 2006
Tracklisting:
  1. Roscoe
  2. Bandits [LISTEN]

  3. Head Home
  4. Van Occupanther
  5. Young Bride
  6. Branches
  7. In This Camp
  8. We Gathered in Spring
  9. It Covers the Hillsides
  10. Chasing After Deer
  11. You Never Arrived

   I was turned onto Midlake back in 2008 with the songs “Branches” and “Young Bride”, well after the release of their second full-length album from which they hail, The Trials of Van Occupanther. It was a sound I wasn’t totally accustomed to, nor one I was sure would draw me into a long-term relationship with the band. But, as with anything new and awesome (Andy Kaufman, Jurassic Park, The Beatles), it did.

   There’s a general tone of 70s classic rock-type stuff going on throughout the album, intentional or not I’m not sure, but conclusions can hardly stop there, as much of what turns Midlake’s songs into unclassifiable pieces all their own is due in large part to singer Tim Marsh, whose earthy, melancholy vocals, frequently beautifully harmonized, travel up and down the melodic hills written into just about every song. The album is infused with imagery of nature, dwellings in nature, and those who travel between the two, conjured up by way of his lyrics and perhaps even just the sound of his voice.

   Opening track “Roscoe” (video here) is a fan favorite, a combination of simple chords put to a simple beat, comfortably paced, by no means poppy, and by no means a downer, but falling into a neutral tone found pretty consistently throughout the album. Piano, guitar and bass dominate the soundscape (aside from the harmonies), but when filling a lyricless gap, instead of traditional piano riffs or guitar solos, the instrumental aid comes in the form of spacier keyboard voices or analog synthesizers. These, while a much heavier influence on previous and debut album Bamnan and Silvercorck, are still a definitive presence on Van Occupanther, distinguishing the band’s sound from that of mere dated classic rock.

   Track #2, “Bandits”, is my personal favorite, and one of the lighter tunes on the album, a magical blend of acoustic guitar plucking/strumming, piano, and even occasional flute. It is the best example of Smith’s up-and-down vocal sensibilities, exploring all possible facets of every chord. Maybe I read too much into a band’s outfits, but i can see myself following behind as the last lines are sung… “When the winter comes and the greenery goes we will make some shelter.”

   Skipping ahead but not yet halfway through the CD, “Young Bride” offers arguably the most unique musical accompaniment to Marsh’s lyrics, a faster-paced drumming and bass pattern comprising the bulk of the song, at bridge and chorus supporting a one-of-a-kind (Asian-inspired?) string arrangement. The following track, “Branches”, is another personal favorite, probably because of its dance between two very different tones. After emerging from a darker, more minor piano ballad of an opening (not without its share of mesmerizing harmonies), it reaches a happier, lighter tune (countered by some of the darkest, most bittersweet lyrics found on Van Occupanther. After touching back into the minor chords and later emerging once more, it closes in a drawn-out continuation of his earlier sentiments: “We won’t get married/ ‘Cause she won’t have me/ She wakes up awfully early these days/ And there’s no one else so kind/ There’s no one else to find/ It’s hard for me but I’m trying,” (the last line echoed over and over into the fadeout).

   “We Gathered in Spring” is another relatively/ambiguously happy tune that most boldly embraces synthesizer-type voices that embellish the chorus and instrumental bridges, hearkening back to the tonal likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer for one. This might be the one to roll the windows down and sing to, Smith stirring up for me romantic inklings of an idealistic future picture with: “On a clear day I can see my old house and my wife in the front yard talking with the friends.”

   “It Covers the Hillsides”, “Chasing After Deer” and “Head Home” (video here) are other notable songs, and really, there’s no bad song on the album. Nothing feels out of place either. Whether this cohesive work was a formidable undertaking or a natural effort on the band’s part, it certainly comes across as the latter. It’s unfortunate to note that their newest release, The Courage of Others, was, pardon the pun, a much less courageous piece of work, but for now, I’ll continue to stick up for Midlake, directing curious hopefuls to Van Occupanther first.

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CURSE YOUR BRANCHES by david bazan

by Gordon

Pitchfork: N/A          Rolling Stone: N/A          Metacritic: 81          Spin: N/A

 

Released: September 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. Hard To Be [LISTEN]

  2. Bless This Mess
  3. Please, Baby, Please
  4. Curse Your Branches
  5. Harmless Sparks
  6. When We Fell
  7. Lost My Shape
  8. Bearing Witness
  9. Heavy Breath
  10. In Stitches

   Not too many people (unless you travel in fortunate circles) are familiar with Pedro The Lion. Even less have heard of David Bazan, the ex-frontman from the now defunct group. I actually became aware of the latter’s music before giving Pedro a shot (still on my to-do list). I quickly became aware that Curse Your Branches, Bazan’s first solo effort since his band days, deserved considerable attention and praise that I only hoped it would receive with the masses. From the few sources I’ve tapped to confirm this, I’m pretty sure it has.

   My affection for the album is probably due in part to a more acoustic introduction to the artist via a house show that one of my friends was lucky enough to host this past summer. Finding willing fans to put him up for the more intimate shows, he was able to debut new material, generate income and maintain a low profile per the request of his record label. I sat on a hardwood floor just feet from the artist and took in his penetrating vocal melodies and guitar rhythms, only recognizing a handful of songs that I’d studied up on in weeks prior. I was moved by the emotion behind his lyrics which were, quite literally, the most personal and heartfelt lyrics I’d ever heard in a collection of songs. This is easy to imagine upon discovering that Curse Your Branches has been dubbed a breakup album…with God.

   Bazan grew up in a very religious home, considering himself a devout evangelical even up through his year with Pedro The Lion. Soonafter, however, he began to rethink his personal theology, and emerged from his hiatus a very public doubter. Some fans have criticized the level of production and instrumentation given his new solo album, favoring the simple marriage between Bazan’s voice and his guitar as showcased during his house tours. It’s an understandable position, but there are merits to each sound.

    The album opens with “Hard To Be”, and more specifically, its one and-a-half minute long intro of piano, then added synthesizer, then added percussion, Bazan then entering guitar and vocals in one of his most lyrically obvious of spiritual complaints. “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.” Later, he uses the metaphor of graduation to explain his religious crossover: “I swung my tassle to the left side of my cap, knowing after graduation there would be no going back/ And no congratulations from my faithful family, some of whom are already fasting to intercede for me.” Despite the dark undertones of the track, it’s become a favorite of mine for its simple and catchy melody coupled with Bazan’s candor.

   Track #2, “Bless This Mess”, is a less anxious Bazan who seems to be having fun with his new band (not sure if it’s him or them on the recording) in this quirky light rocker of a song. God is still a central theme. I’m especially fond of the line, “Through a darkened mirror I have seen my own reflection/ And it makes me want to be a better man…after another drink.” The album continues with the beautifully simple “Please, Baby, Please”, consisting almost entirely of Bazan on his acoustic guitar. The song sets aside the God talk to explore what seems to be Bazan’s relationships with his wife and daughter. It’s got a pace like a locomotive, carrying a tone about it perhaps suitable for a drive with the windows down.

   Title track “Curse Your Branches” is maybe the most symbolic but still pointed song on the album, addressing the idea of passed down beliefs among family, and the pitfalls therein. He sings, “All fallen leaves should curse their branches/ For not letting them decide where they should fall/ And not letting them refuse to fall at all.” Musically, Bazan’s thoughtful lyrics are met with a pleasant medley of electric guitar and light percussion. His personal struggles are even shared concerning his own confusion with his disbelief: “Digging up the root of my confusion/ If no one planted it, how does it grow?/ And why are some hell bent upon there being an answer/ While some are quite content to answer ‘I don’t know’?”

   Skipping slightly forward, “When We Fell” sets the bitter but confident lyrics from Bazan to the album’s most classic rock-style tune, with a thumping beat, aggressive bassline, and even bluesy background vocals atop another cluster of simple and catchy chords. In it, he is perhaps harshest with the God he once was so close to, prodding, “Did You push us when we fell?” He even comes close to threatening the God he no longer believes in concerning his mother: “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.” He concludes: “If you knew what would happen and made us just the same/ Then you my Lord can take the blame.”

   The album closer, “In Stitches”, is a slow, organ/piano/guitar ballad, a morose Bazan crafting what feels like his final frustrated feelings toward God into a sorrowful, unforgiving tale of abandonment, sometimes drifting into heartwrenching falsetto. “I need no other memory of the bits of me I left/ When all this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about You.” His closing lines are the most pointed: “When Job asked You the question You responded ‘Who are you/ To challenge your Creator?’ Well if that one part is true/ It makes you sound defensive like you had not thought it through/ Enough to have an answer like you might have bit off more than You could chew.”

   Bazan has stated in interviews that the album is less an album about breaking up with God, and more an album about breaking up with the particular Biblical narrative of God. This sentiment permeates throughout the album, his lyrics really the star of the show (for anyone interested in mulling over such philosophical/ideological/theological thoughts). They become the reason we’re captivated, in the same way Dylan’s songs did decades ago, and, like Dylan, Bazan’s got the music to back himself up.

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