David Bazan was attending a Bible college in Seattle when he formed Pedro the Lion in 1995. Fourteen years later he's released a solo album that documents his breakup with Christianity.
It's a bitter breakup, full of feelings so intense they suggest Bazan hasn't stopped wrestling with his faith. On the track "In Stitches," Bazan chides God for sounding defensive when He asked Job, "Who are you to challenge your Creator?"
In his 10 years with Pedro the Lion, Bazan's identity as a musical artist was transformed. He was a young singer-songwriter playing to church youth groups when he began. His folk-rock songs were high-minded searches for meaning, not trite anthems to Christianity. That won the attention of indie rock fans. In 2002, Pedro the Lion played some of indie's most influential festivals, including Coachella and Sasquatch.
Bazan's stage success took a turn for the worse in 2003, when he developed a serious drinking problem. According to a biography on Bazan's official website, he played sober for the first time in three years at a show in November 2006.
By that time, Pedro the Lion had broken up. In the interim, Bazan pursued an electro-rock side project called Headphones. Two years ago, he signed to Barsuk records and released his first solo EP, about his struggles with faith and alcohol.
Those themes have continued on Curse Your Branches, Bazan's first full-length solo album, released last month. The opening track aptly begins in the Garden of Eden. Bazan takes on the creation story:
"You expect me to believe that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree? And helpless to fight it, we should all be satisfied with this magical explanation for why the living die, and why it's hard to be a decent human being?"
The first single off the album, "Bless This Mess," features the pedal steel guitar work of Casey Foubert. But the music isn't traditional Americana. It's gently psychedelic rock, rollicking with bewildered chords that frame Bazan's lyrical conflict: "I have seen my own reflection, and it makes me want to be a better man, after another drink."