In 2001, Cursive released Domestica, a very public visit to the psychiatrist's
couch by frontman Tim Kasher after the meltdown of his marriage. Along with Saddle
Creek brother Conor Oberst, Cursive head up the mature thinking-person's wing
of the "emo" scene. At least that's what Entertainment Weekly, The
York Times, etc. told everyone…
Suddenly, Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba's pretty face and strategic tattoos were splattered all over television, quickly followed by the predictable parade of retarded, overwrought mental munchkins: Good Charlotte, A Simple Plan, et al.
The market explosion suddenly offered new options and choices to talented, original indie bands such as Cursive:
A. Stay the indie course, stagnate, play to small, cult-like crowds and make the same record over and over again.
B. Sign your soul over to UMG/Sony/BMG/EMI and start buying real estate all over Omaha, mocking yourself and your comrades before the rock-critic jihad track you down and rip you limb from limb
C. Compromise, evolve and continue the natural progression and development of your music
Cursive chose door C. They created another Kasher "concept" album. They also
added Greta Cohn, a classically trained cellist. The result is a very good, almost
great album: Cursive Presents: The Ugly Organ. Combining elements of the
fairy tale "Pinocchio," rock criticism, ethereal stage direction, Coney Island,
Frankenstein, and 1970s-era bombast, a clear picture of a band uncomfortably
finding its niche emerges by the end of the record.
On the first three tracks "The Ugly Organist," "Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand" and "Art Is Hard" the band sounds like a hopped-up, drunk ballroom orchestra sick of playing the same old standards, ready to throw a few punches and destroy centerpieces and candelabras. During "… Sleight of Hand," Cohn plays the cello so forcefully it rocks hard as any guitar or bass. Meanwhile, Kasher the protagonist issues a challenge to the rosters of Victory, Vagrant, Discord, Basuk, Drive-Thru, Jade Tree and especially Saddle Creek in a preemptive strike to beat the Web jackals to the punch, "You gotta fake the pain/ You better make it sting/ You're gonna break a leg/ When you get on stage/ And they scream your name/ 'Oh, Cursive is so cool!'"
Cohn's cello provides a low end seldom heard in music, let alone pop. As bands search for more and more texture (i.e. DJs, horns and whatever the hell Johnny Greenwood is doing this month) to offset the effects of digital recording, Cursive have added a new dimension to what was already a great unique sound. Guitarist Ted Stevens combines with Kasher to add depth and grace to the poison of the lyrics.
In "The Recluse," a post-coital guilt-and-pity-party backed by a mix of percussion and space, Kasher tries a little too hard, stumbling into the lyrical absurd ("My ego's like my stomach/ It keeps shitting what I feed it."), a self-hating teenager desperately trying to get home (or out of his therapist's waiting room).
Battle of the sexes is the subject for "Butcher the Song." Using a healthy dose of da-da-da-da-da's, Kasher's masculine id smirks on each side of his clichéd punk rock sneer oh the duality of self-hate and love. "That organ's playing my song," he sings. "But this song's gone on too long/ What a day to sever such ugly extremities/ ‘What a lovely day,' says the butcher as he raises his arm."
Usually affairs between humans and egos end badly. Appropriately, the next song is "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale," and Kasher compares the air and energy of fast, finite, physical love to the myth of "Pinocchio." But it's the subsequent standout track "A Gentleman's Caller/Harold Weathervein" that describes how the short-term satisfaction of sex and need can crumble down upon us.
Kasher staggers and meanders to the end with "Sierra" and "Staying Alive," a powerful one-two close to the album. "Sierra" is a schizophrenic song, half acoustic textured ballad, half angry punk rant. It's full of quiet, lush sound effects deployed to buttress Kasher's regret and anger over the demise of yet another short, self-destructive relationship. Crying and craving the peace of a stable family, a young, bitter man yearns for a life that includes more then a daily dose of masochistic torment.
The finale, "Staying Alive," is the protagonist's reluctant resignation to soldier on despite himself: "Sleep on it one more night my sad old friend." The song clocks in at 10:06 the musical equivalent to a lonely 4 a.m. shower in a lost highway motel. The Staying Alive Choir (including Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, Rilo Kiley, Postal Service's Jenny Lewis and The Faint's Clark and Todd Baechle) serenades us away to sleep: "The worst is over/ Do, do, do ,do, do do do do/ The worst is over."