CD Reviews: New Releases From David Bazan and Sirens Sister

David BazanCurse Your Branches (Barsuk Records)To a nonbeliever—or to those unfamiliar with the evangelical beliefs that defined the first 30 years of David Bazan's life—Curse Your Branches sounds as if it were written by a man who has made up his mind about God. The album is Bazan's first full-length since the breakup of popular Christian indie-rock band Pedro the Lion in 2005, and he's not holding back his feelings about the religion that launched his career. The opening track, "Hard to Be," calls out the book of Genesis and the very idea of original sin as bullshit: "Wait just a minute/You expect me to believe/That all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?" On "When We Fell," perhaps the album's clearest statement of Bazan's new beliefs, he credits God with causing the fall of man.Even at his most vengeful, though, Bazan hasn't made up his mind about God. If anything, these songs are admissions that he doesn't know what to believe anymore. The skepticism of his lyrics is contrasted by richer instrumentation, giving Curse Your Branches more dimension than Pedro the Lion material. The super-slow, drawn-out drumbeats and sparse guitars are replaced with swirling chords and Paul Simon–style pianos. The keys on "In Stitches" are played so intensely it sounds like the piano is crying. There's a reason why the album is mournful: Bazan is grieving his lost faith and carrying heavy guilt over renouncing God. It may take him a lifetime—or a career—to work that out. But sonically he made the right choice: His voice is stronger and clearer as a skeptic than it ever was as a believer. PAIGE RICHMONDSirens SisterUnspeakable Things (The Control Group)Could Sirens Sister become Seattle's U2? Probably not, but you get the feeling it's a sound the band's aiming for after listening to its new album, Unspeakable Things, which is filled with grandiose, sweeping guitar rock accompanied by optimistic lyrics. Most of the album, the band's second, has a big arena-rock feel, but on the whole it falls short of its stadium potential. The melodrama of "Scarlet Hearts" and "Into the Ether" doesn't mesh well with the album's other tracks, many of which have the makings of mini-epics. This inconsistency results in a record that never lives up to the ambitions it expresses.One thing that works in Sirens Sister's favor is that its songs about hope and love don't come across as cheesy or arrogant; they feel determined and sincere, unlike those of Coldplay, U2, and other arena-filling powerhouses. Vocalist Zach Davidson, formerly of Vendetta Red, ditches his scream routine and finally finds his singing voice. The album opens by showcasing his pipes and piano skills on the tender ballad "The Thing in the Woods"; from there, Davidson's voice soars throughout Unspeakable Things' remaining 10 songs.But this isn't just Davidson's show. Guitarist Leif Andersen, the band's other former VR member, plays the Edge to Davidson's Bono. The title track, where Andersen unleashes his version of flamenco with a punk-rock twist, is impressive.For those pining to hear Davidson's trademark shrieks, "Sparks" is for you. Listen at the 3:20 mark, when he lets loose several visceral, throat-shredding yowls. It's the only screaming you'll get out of Davidson, though. More than anything, Unspeakable Things shows promise for the group's next album. TRAVIS HAY

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