So many of us know that moment so well. Maybe you were in high school, I was in college. It’s that moment when you begin to doubt the faith you’d grown up with it; your parents’ faith you learned in story books and picture Bibles. Your teachers’ faith you learned in Sunday School and Bible class. Your youth pastors’ faith you learned in Bible studies and retreats. Suddenly none of those people are there, you’re on your own and that faith is either yours, or it’s gone.
And then, just in the nick of time, a friend hands you a CD, sends you a file, makes a recommendation. You listen to Pedro the Lion’s “It’s Hard to Find a Friend,” or the “Whole EP” or “Progress” or even “Control” and you realize, you’re not alone. You hear in the strained voice of David Bazan that it’s okay to question God, to express grievances with the modern state of Christianity, to feel angry and confused.
Now a dedicated Pedro/Bazan fan, you buy his first solo EP entitled “Fewer Moving Parts” and you realize something is different. The voice is still there, the stripped down production and the questions, but it’s not long before you realize the resolution is different, it is, in short, non-existent. Where Bazan used to rest his questions, doubt and anger in the assurance that God was bigger than all that, the way he ends “Secret of the Easy Yoke,” with the refrain “Peace, be still;” that is all gone now. The uncertainty is all that remains.
Bazan continues this thread that ranges from simple questioning to full-fledged agnosticism on his latest release, brilliantly and painfully titled, “Curse Your Branches.” From the first few listens to this record I can say that musically it may be Bazan’s best to date, and lyrically his most challenging.
Earlier tonight, our editor David Sessions and myself had the opportunity to attend an invite-only show at Piano’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In a small room packed mostly with music journalists and other industry types, Bazan and his band blasted through a 10-song set in just under an hour, still making time for his typical practice of Q&A.
The entire set was drawn from the new record, he played almost the entire album, with the exception of “Harmless Sparks” and the addition of “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” and “How I Remember” from the “Fewer Moving Parts” EP. I have had the opportunity to see Bazan many times in concerts in a variety of venues, and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard him and his band sound as polished and tight as they did tonight at Piano’s.
Perhaps what was most striking about his new songs and, subsequently, his performance, is that the motif that he has long relied on of writing lyrics that speak directly to God has not changed, though his belief in that God has flagged. In “When We Fell,” he even refers to “My Lord,” though the context makes the tone seem nearly mocking.
It’s important to distinguish, however, that it only seems “nearly” mocking. Bazan is not out to lambast Christians or belittle those with beliefs. A year ago when I had the opportunity to talk with him after a show at Gordon College he said the hardest part about letting go of his faith was that his wife remains a committed Christian. And this aspect of family is evident on the new record as well as he references his daughter who, he sings, “is lately full of questions” about God.
There isn’t a sense that Bazan’s journey has come to an end, nor that he wants to. This isn’t the snarky atheism of Christopher Hitchens, rather it is more akin to the broken disbelief of one who has invested so much in a faith that he has determined has failed him.
It is not for us to speculate as to where Bazan is headed, but rather to continue enjoy the commiseration that comes with the knowledge that our doubts and anger, though they may lead to dark places, don’t necessarily do us in. And, all that aside, “Curse Your Branches” offers the opportunity to hear an excellent singer/songwriter at the top of his game.
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