If you haven't read that article, do. It gives a really interesting and informative look at David Bazan's life over the last few years--his alcoholism, his doubts, and his gradual fall from faith...
This album basically chronicles said fall, and as such it's a really compelling and personal collection of songs. They pretty overtly question all things religious, which is a deviation from Bazan's earlier and perhaps more nuanced lyrics, the main feature of which was always a strained sort of tension between his faith and his doubt. The tug-of-war between his hope and his cynicism was always what made him so attractive for me as a musician and lyricist.
So, what happens when an artist's cynicism wins over? Well, it's important to note that for Bazan (and for most people honestly seeking the truth), the hope is always there... it just changes, becomes more subdued. The hope is still present on this album here and there... it's subdued and more sad than it is actually hopeful, but it's there.
That being said, Curse Your Branches sees Bazan doing just that: cursing the branches from which he's fallen; severely questioning the God from which he has fallen. Lyrically, then, the album comes across as pretty rough around the edges at times, with big, brash, in-your-face statements railing against God and religion. But there's also a lot of the usual brooding self-reflection, and that tempers the overt criticisms pretty nicely. The one thing I miss on this album is what I think is Bazan's greatest forte: his ability to tell compelling stories through song, a la Priests and Paramedics, Discretion, and the entirety of Winners Never Quit. Of course, such ballads wouldn't have been appropriate on an album like this, which is more about Bazan himself than anything--but I certainly look forward to him returning to that great storytelling capability of his in the future.
Musically, the album is leaps and bounds above Bazan's first EP. More piano-based and less solely acoustic, Curse Your Branches' instrumentation possesses a variety and flare that serve for a really great and cohesive listen.
So, where to from here? Well, this album strikes me as a necessary stepping stone in both Bazan's life and his career. It's a transitional work, in a way: a sort of farewell to a previous life and a heralding-in of a new one. And there's plenty to look forward to, in my opinion. Bazan might have lost his faith, but he's gained a kind of freedom in my opinion, both as a man and an artist. And that age-old tension between hope and doubt won't ever go away, I think... it will just manifest itself in new and different ways, which I for one am really excited about.