It’s all alcohol and religion on David Bazan’s first solo LP, Curse Your Branches. Given his back catalogue with Pedro the Lion, Headphones, and two solo EPs, it’s no surprise. But this isn’t the Hold Steady pulpit he’s preaching from. Bazan, on Branches, takes a characteristically ruminative, introspective approach to issues of human fallibility (“Hard to Be”), alcohol addiction (the gorgeous album standout “Please, Baby, Please), and, of course, the intertwining of the two in the presence (or lack thereof) of God (“Harmless Sparks,” “Curse Your Branches,” “Bearing Witness”).
And for all the talk that’s been made recently of Bazan’s own struggles with alcoholism and faith, it’s telling that on Branches the strongest, most evocative tracks are those that, in the singer’s beautifully worn and warm delivery, choose, in essence, melody over meaning.
“Please, Baby, Please” — a lyrical sequel, perhaps, to “I Do” off the 2004 Pedro the Lion album, Achilles Heel — adds a subtle electronic bounce, reverbed vocals, and backing chorus to the upbeat and simple acoustic track that’s been a staple of Bazan’s set since last year’s Bazan: Alone at the Microphone DVD. “Bless This Mess,” with a poppy synth and bass-driven chorus, and “When We Fell” are standouts, as well, the latter with a White Album lilt and a melody cribbed, to wonderful, if unintended effect, from Billy Joel’s “My Life.”
When Bazan hits the bridge of “Please, Baby, Please,” singing, “Those two pairs of big blue eyes/ Stare me down, watch me fall/ What makes a man relapse/ When he’s about to lose it all,” the depth and pleading momentum of his voice make clear his real musical gift. Whereas on the plodding “Lost in Shape,” “In Stitches” and opener “Hard to Be,” “Please, Baby, Please” puts front and center David Bazan’s biggest asset: not what he has to say or the personal problems that led to the album, but his voice as a beautiful instrument, undamaged and true.