The "Christian music" tag is still a puzzling cross on David Bazan's back. Sure, he writes a lot about Christianity, but he mostly sticks to its failures in the face of depression, death, and doubt. Since his group Pedro the Lion split in 2006, Bazan has, it's reported, fallen out with God and off the wagon, and those tumbles get painful airtime on his solid first solo LP, Curse Your Branches.
The album's a lush spin on Pedro: more acoustic voicings plus the synths that defined his work with Headphones. Sweet alt-country melodies — roughly the same ones he's been using his whole tuneful career — lure you on through an increasingly dreary lyrical landscape. It's all short on epiphanies, though the masterful closer, "In Stitches," offers a raw look into Bazan's current psyche.
On the ironically rockabilly "When We Fell," he sings, "If you knew what would happen and made us just the same, then you, my Lord, can take the blame." Most of the songs sound deceptively conversational; sometimes the "you" is an avatar who shares Bazan's crisis in faith, and sometimes it's God. Yet they're all monologues, and no one appears to answer to Bazan's accusations. You don't leave happy, or hopeful about a second coming anytime soon. But, hey, at least Bazan came back, so thank God for — well, maybe not.