A Slice of Fried Gold

Music Mondays

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recommendation: Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen

You could make a very good argument that Cursive is one of my ten or so favorite bands. They're a consistently good band with one fantastic album and two very good ones (the Ugly Organ, Domestica, and Happy Hollow respectively), and March 10th, they will be releasing a new album, strangely titled Mama, I'm Swollen. This album kind of snuck up on me, but as soon as I heard of it, it quickly jumped up to the top of my "most anticipated albums" list.

The question isn't how anticipated it was though, the question is, how is it? Better yet, how does it compare to other Cursive albums?

For short answers to those, you'll get: okay, and poorly.

To be perfectly honest, this album is a lot more unfocused and all over the place than other Cursive albums. Reliance on repeated vocal lines and what I'm sure they would call "atmospheric" instrumental sections leave many songs instantly forgettable, such as lead track "In the Now."

As a rule of thumb, I think an artist should lead albums with something that grabs the listeners attention immediately and acts as a precursor to the rest of the album. A sign of things to come if you will. The song really only features three different lyrics strings, repeated for effect throughout the track. "Don't want to live in the now/Don't want to know what I know" is the first repeated track, and it's delivered in a Cursive meets "name that aggressive punk band" way that tires out the track and really makes those lyrics ring true for the listener. Not an ideal start, for sure.

It's immediately followed by what has to be considered one of the standout tracks on the album. "From the Hips" starts out sounding like a track off frontman Tim Kasher's side project the Good Life, but slowly unveils itself as a more Cursive styled track - and a great one at that. After the slower, more introspective beginning, it continues the introspection lyrically but speeds up the track with driving drums, horns, and some very quality vocal stylings from Mr. Kasher and quality guitar work from the rest. This song also sets the theme lyrically for the album, as Kasher has stretched his introspection around the whole of humanity on this album, as opposed to just himself.

Is Tim Kasher a single man census for humanity? This album acts as if he is, and it provides a far different lyrical spin to the album as a whole (Note: I don't generally pay attention to lyrics, but Kasher makes it pretty hard not to). Most song writers don't take on human existence as a subject matter for an album, but Kasher gives it his level best.

First single "I Couldn't Love You" is a perfect example of a pros and cons of this album. While the lyrics are clever (Is he saying "I couldn't love you any more" or "I couldn't love you anymore"?) and the chorus is quite the high point, the blase verses don't really do anything for me as a listener. Sparse vocals, barely there instrumentation - it feels like a means to an end in between the choruses. I have to admit though, my affinity for the organs and horns in the track run deep.

In true Cursive fashion, they totally win me over with the last track on the album. With the Ugly Organ being one of my favorite albums and final track "Staying Alive" arguably being my favorite track, that's unsurprising. This last track, titled "What Have I Done?" is Kasher at his reflective best, with a slow burn finish that builds the power of the track and kicks it up a notch at about the 4:30 mark to close out the album in strong fashion.

This track puts Kasher in the position to really connects with listeners, as he laments "I spent the best years of my life/waiting on the best years of my life" early, and then later on, "I was telling everyone back home/That I was taking it by storm/Instead, I watched it by the roadside." These are sentiments anyone can relate to - life not feeling like it's going as it should, not meeting your potential, letting opportunity pass you by. The tragedy in this song is trapped in the reality.

The problem with this album as a whole is two fold however: the lyrical insight of Kasher isn't always at his previous levels and the lyrics are quite often trapped in less enticing presentation than in previous albums. Simply put, the structure of these songs are quite often too muddled to allow the darkly melodious aspects of Cursive's music to come out. When Kasher railed against fighting with his wife on Domestica's opener "The Casualty" or talked about the state of art in the world in the Ugly Organ's "Art is Hard," they were both laid out in ways that made them basely pleasing for the pop fan in all of us and the audiophile looking for something more from the listener.

On Mama, I'm Swollen, we get less of both of those concepts, and the album suffers for it.

The album as a whole is very perplexing. It carries on throughout, occasionally like a Cursive album and occasionally like an album written by an entirely different band. I kept waiting for some sense of consistency, but it never came.

However, I do want to note, I've only gotten about three or four listens in. Cursive albums tend to be growers, and this one easily could come out of its shell with repeated listens. As of right now, however, it's not exactly my favorite album.

Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen: C


Post a Comment