Pop Songs for the Fallen

“Through a darkened mirror, I have seen my own reflection,” sings David Bazan in “Bless This Mess,” a musically (if not lyrically) upbeat track from his new album Curse Your Branches. The line concludes: “And it makes me want to be a better man . . . after another drink.”

For nearly a decade Bazan’s band, Pedro the Lion, brought its tight, urgent sound and intimate, first-person lyrics to bear on problems of spirituality and crises of faith. Bazan continues that tradition here, addressing thorny questions within the unlikely context of compact pop songs. His meditations on sin, betrayal, addiction, and extreme self-doubt are set against a warm, organic backdrop of acoustic guitar, organ, and analog synthesizers.

The tortured narrator in these songs is often atoning for transgressions even as he allows that he will soon slip again. “Hard to Be” wonders whether the doctrine of original sin is an adequate explanation for suffering. “Please, Baby, Please” follows the plight of an alcoholic watching his daughter spiral into the disease. “When We Fell” takes God to task for creating such a fallible species.

These huge, ancient questions are made more palatable by Bazan’s smooth, catchy arrangements. But the spiritual and the secular alike might squirm when the songs’ universal themes hit this close to home.

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