Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: Saddle Creek
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
It’s a desultory, even trite point with which to begin, but happiness just doesn't become some songwriters. Tim Kasher – who, alongside Cursive, has fronted The Good Life for the last nine years – falls emphatically into this category. Through his musings on relationships, creativity, politics and religion (mostly relationships), he has gifted us a brace of astonishing work over the years; as literate as it is visceral, as deeply affecting as it is relayed with a commendable ear for a hook.
Kasher remains a cunning wordsmith, and as usual, his lyrics are filled with uncertainty -- especially when debating religion, as he's done on more than a few songs now. However, when the music is more uncertain of itself than the lyrics are, things become shaky. The album jumps around without focus from country rock, indie, and Americana, with tinges of hard-hitting emo rock here and there peeking out from behind the slick pop ballads.
Growing up is never easy On Mama I’m Swollen, as always, Cursive’s Tim Kasher anguishes. Over dirty, frenzied riffs and in swirling electronic dirges, he anguishes—then more on beds of bell and saxophone. Later, he anguishes through whispered breakdowns of broken falsetto. And as the band has recently picked up former Engine Down drummer Cornbread Compton, Kasher now anguishes, too, over skittering time signatures.
Review Summary: Cursive again.'Mama, I'm Swollen' is an anomaly, presenting Cursive simultaneously succeeding at their new sound while falling into pitfalls of being redundant. Most of the criticism is easily lodged at lyricist Tim Kasher. The head lyricist attempts for grandiose themes to go along with the grandiose instrumentals of 'Mama, I'm Swollen'.
Tim Kasher is emo’s grown-up hero — a punk who pays his mortgage. So it’s a little awkward to find the Omaha native stricken with Peter Pan syndrome on Cursive’s sixth album, Mama, I’m Swollen. Kasher fantasizes about trading in the house and kid for a night at Pleasure Island, until reality finally sets in. ”Isn’t it time you act your age?” he taunts, and for better or worse, his band heeds that advice.
Since the release of their breakthrough album, The Ugly Organ, in 2003, Cursive have taken three-year sabbaticals between recordings. Fans waited until 2006 for Happy Hollow, which showed the quartet developing in leaps and bounds musically while earnestly exploring themes such as the conflict of religion in North American society and the depressing blandness of suburban life. It signaled an enterprising departure for the group, both lyrically and melodically, and seemed to open up abundant possibilities for their future development, as though Cursive could go in any number of directions.
When mentioned in conversation, there is perhaps no other band in the world that will garner as much respect or head-scratching as Cursive, the most successful indie act you’ve never heard of. Having reached critical mass in 2003 with The Ugly Organ, the Nebraskan quartet placed their fingertips on the threshold but never quite punctured it, content to remain like shadows behind the gauze. This, despite all the components for a lion’s share of stardom: digestible riffs, quirky asides, and a gravelly-throated frontman in Tim Kasher, whose croaky voice is ridden by Cursive in much the same way that U2 piggybacks Bono’s or The Cure uses Robert Smith’s.
One of my very favorite songs of the current decade remains “Ten Percent to the Ten Percent”, Cursive’s contribution to their home label Saddle Creek’s 2005 Hurricane Katrina charity compilation Lagniappe. The text of the song consists of the scornful confessions of an employee at a nameless big box department store, coasting into a meager position on his father’s good name and poised for the company’s self-proclaimed “endless opportunity”. He drinks on the job, stages craps games for his co-workers on company time and soon graduates onto internal theft.
On release after release, Tim Kasher's vocals are aggressively pushed to the forefront, commanding our attention and forcing us to consider his lyrics. He does it again on the uncomfortably titled Mama, I'm Swollen. If the words and melodies are compelling, we'll take notice, so why hammer us over the head? [rssbreak] Kasher has zero ability to or interest in dialing down his drama and giving Cursive's highbrow emo rock room to breathe.
When Omaha's Cursive released 2003 post-hardcore gem The Ugly Organ, a million emo kids agreed, "Art is hard!" Without cellist Gretta Cohn and after 14 years onstage, however, penman Tim Kasher has matured. Cursive's seventh LP, Mama, I'm Swollen, is just as transgressive as it is familiar. Kasher's voice still breaks in the right places, but sing-alongs are replaced by dissonance, and the angst has subsided, allowing for retrospection.