When we caught Cursive
at Bowery Ballroom early last month
, there was a tremendous focus on the performance of the music. Everyone onstage was giving 100%, with the audience screaming along to every one of Tim Kasher's brilliantly mashed together stanzas. It was a little weird, a little funny and very, very intense... kind of like this video!
Ever since Cursive burst onto the music scene with their 1997 debut album, the band has consistently and continually churned out heady albums heralded by critics and fans alike. Wrestling with life's miseries and mysteries, Mama, I'm Swollen is an album brimming with the universal, questioning the human condition, social morality, and the 'Peter Pan Syndrome' of grown men.
After the underground success of their third album, Cursive's Domestica, in 2000, the band followed up with what would prove to be their breakthrough album, The Ugly Organ, in 2003. A self-aware conceptual record about artistic constraints (or lack thereof), relationships, sex, and the intersection of all three, it landed them on the Arts section cover of The New York Times and earned accolades from Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Magnet, Esquire, and Spin as well as a place on many year-end best lists. Cursive spent the next year and a half touring relentlessly, headlining the Plea For Peace tour and playing Coachella before being handpicked by The Cure to join the Curiosa tour in late 2004.
Exhausted and daunted by the task of following up a hit record, Cursive went on an indefinite hiatus before remerging with the adventurous Happy Hollow in 2006. Lauded as a triumphant evolutionary step by Alternative Press, Spin, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly, among others, the album examined small-town angst, American dreams, and religion. Midway through touring in early 2007, original drummer Clint Schnase amicably departed the band. After a short break following a national tour with Mastodon and Against Me! and feeling somewhat conflicted about proceeding forward without Schnase, Tim Kasher (vocals, guitar), Matt Maginn (bass), and Ted Stevens (guitar, vocals) decided to begin writing only without the ambitions of necessarily turning it into the next Cursive record. The band began playing with drummer Cornbread Compton (formerly of Engine Down) and what musically unfolded from this newly realized foursome was indeed Cursive.
Written together in intermittent rehearsals as the band is now spread out across the west and midwest, they road-tested and refined the new material for Mama, I'm Swollen largely via shows in spring and summer 2008. Cursive's new writing process resulted in a set of ten enthusiastic and focused songs to record when they entered Mike Mogis' ARC Studios in Omaha, NE the following fall, producing the album themselves alongside AJ Mogis.
Kasher is a storyteller, a weaver of songs that read more like short stories or fables than the standard verse-chorus-verse. Mama, I'm Swollen finds him at his literate, lyrical best, intertwining references to both Poe (Going To Hell) and Pinocchio (Donkeys) seamlessly within his own tales of characters grappling with the moral quandary of being human, adult, and playing a role in 'civilized' society. Musically, Cursive remains smart and sophisticated: with rousing, cerebral content complemented by moments alternately hushed and exhilarating (the cathartic From The Hips, the noisily melodic romp I Couldn't Love You), eerily moody and jaunty (the almost prayer-like Let Me Up, Mama, I'm Swollen) moments that often occur within the very same song. From the charging bass lines of album opener In The Now to the quiet first chords of confessional closer What Have I Done?, Mama, I'm Swollen is a natural progression that remains distinctively Cursive: a fluid amalgamation of the band's sound past, present, and future. This is a band that both your punk kid sister and English lit grad student/best friend both call their own.
Whew. Mama, I'm Swollen is also one clear thing: an amazing Cursive record, and why the band remains one of the most exciting and inventive rock bands today.