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Tag: cursive

Show Review: Cursive [Lincoln Hall; Chicago; 3/18/15]

Multiple studies done over the last decade have pretty much all determined that our own personal tastes in music become established between the ages of 14 and 24. As these are the most formative years of our lives, from puberty to the completion of our education in high school and college to the friends and social groups we settle into, it makes sense that this would be a testing ground for the kinds of music we like. The reason I bring this up is because at the tender age of 19 I discovered the band Cursive. To be fair, I discovered a LOT of bands at that age and have continued to for a good decade since, but for one reason or another Cursive holds a special place in my heart. Their 2003 concept(ish) album The Ugly Organ very blessedly blurred the lines between alt-rock, indie, punk and emo so it provided a rather easy entry point for music fans of all stripes and colors. Working at a college radio station in the Midwest also brought the band to my attention, and few were the days when you couldn’t find me in the DJ booth jumping around to “Art Is Hard” as it blasted over the airwaves. ‘Twas a simpler time. But I digress. The point being, The Ugly Organ was a record I really got into and apparently a whole lot of others did as well. So much so the band decided to reissue it last fall with a bunch of bonus material, and follow it up this winter/spring with a two month U.S. tour in celebration. The band finally reached Chicago at the tail end of that for a sold out show at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night. Here’s what happened. (cue Law & Order ::dun dun::)

One of the more noteworthy things about The Ugly Organ is that it’s Cursive’s only release that prominently features the cello. The band recruited cellist Gretta Cohn in 2001 to play on the record and tour in support of it, but in 2005 she left to pursue other interests and was never replaced. While Cohn did play a show or two with Cursive recently when they stopped in New York (where she now lives), she hasn’t rejoined the band or anything like that. The good news is that all of the other stops on this tour did have a cellist to help ensure that the album was properly brought to life, not to mention the bonus of adding cello parts to a bunch of other songs across the Cursive catalog.

Unlike a majority of bands who have adopted the trend of performing a classic album from front to back, Cursive decided to shake things up a bit because they didn’t want to be like everyone else. That was clear right from the beginning of their set, which kicked off with “Sink to the Beat” from 2001’s Burst and Bloom EP followed by “Big Bang” from 2006’s Happy Hollow. Those were but a couple of many interesting choices the band made across close to 90 minutes and 21 songs. Yes The Ugly Organ was technically played in full, but there were detours taken along the way to throw the crowd off and celebrate other records in bits and pieces. Of the non-Organ records, 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen got the most love, but not by much. The biggest surprise of the night was probably “Excerpts From Various Notes Strewn Around the Bedroom of April Connolly, Feb. 24, 1997,” a song that appeared on a 2002 split EP called 8 Teeth to Eat You. That, or the song “Nonsense,” which was found on the Saddle Creek 50 compilation. Both of those tracks actually are included in the deluxe reissue of The Ugly Organ so it makes sense that they’d be played, but context aside they’re absolutely rarities and not the sort of songs you expect to be performed live pretty much ever.

As for The Ugly Organ itself, let’s just say it’s the sort of record that holds up really well. The 1-2-3 punch that is “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” into “Art Is Hard” into “The Recluse” still hits with the same force, only this time you’ve got a room full of people shouting along to every single word. “Art Is Hard” in particular is just a powder keg that set a lot of people off. Similar things could be said about the late set heroics from songs like “Bloody Murderer” and “Sierra,” the latter of which kicked off the encore. As great of a time as the crowd seemed to be having, the band looked like they were having a blast too. Frontman Tim Kasher seemed to suggest that the tour had been going on forever and they were all a little worse for wear, but there were no telltale signs outside of a couple small coughing fits that Kasher had between songs. Illnesses can be tough to recover from when you’re on the road and are unable to rest or take really good care of yourself. So long as it doesn’t degrade the performance though, such things are manageable. Turns out a night honoring The Ugly Organ was anything but ugly. It’s my sincere hope that Kasher and the rest of Cursive take inspiration from that record and this tour as they write and arrange material for their next effort. The world could use more albums like it.

Stream “Art Is Hard”

Stream “Am I Not Yours?”

Buy The Ugly Organ deluxe edition from Saddle Creek

Album Review: Tim Kasher – The Game of Monogamy [Saddle Creek]

If the name Tim Kasher somehow rings unfamiliar to you, perhaps you’re just not aware of some of the music the guy has been behind. Kasher is at the moment responsible for two excellent and distinctly different bands, Cursive and The Good Life. It’s Cursive that has been around the longest, having put out about 8 albums worth of highly emotional punk rock with increasingly dramatic flair. The Good Life is arguably a bit quieter and personal in nature, and though the music doesn’t always fully back it up, there’s plenty of drama in that too. To call Kasher a drama “queen”/king wouldn’t be out of line, and that only becomes clearer the closer you examine his remarkably personal lyrics. Kasher is also a fan of the concept album, and he’s used everything from “The Wizard of Oz” (Cursive’s “Happy Hollow”) to chronicling the good and bad moments a relationship goes through in a year (The Good Life’s “Album of the Year”). Somehow though the main theme always seems to get back to good love gone bad and winding up desperate and alone. No matter how “impersonal” he claims these stories are, the characters in Kasher’s songs are almost never happy, or if they are, it’s not for very long. Why do we pay attention to these sad sack tales Kasher keeps throwing our way? Well, part of it is probably the relatable aspect of it all, because almost all of us have had a relationship go bad at one time or another in our lives. The other part is that Kasher always has such well-rounded wordplay. He’s not quite Shakespeare, but there’s such a vividness to the stories he tells that not many people can do or at least do well. All that said, Tim Kasher has finally decided to release an album under his own name, and true to form he’s titled it “The Game of Monogamy”.

Anyone thinking that “The Game of Monogamy” is a record looking to endorse the values of marriage should probably check the title more carefully. The word “game” is the trick here, because apparently keeping happiness and fidelity with a partner is about as challenging as Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. So the album is by no means positive on relationships in general, though if you’re single or suffering from breakup-itis, there’s wisdom to be found in these words. Of course that “wisdom” could also put you off taking on a partner for the rest of your life, so interpret things quite liberally and without too much weight. Just because Kasher (or the “characters” he’s created) is unhappy with how his long-term relationships have turned out doesn’t mean you have to be. But lyrics do come first in any Kasher project, and this is no exception. “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Alone” deals with the topic the title describes, though the main point is more about how two cheating partners stay together because of that fear. “You said baby, you worry so much about dying/you forget to really live/well maybe so/now tell me, who you been with?” he exclaims amid some rather pleasant organ and a very peppy horn section. In other words, the song has all the hallmarks of a pretty good single, save for the dark lyrical content. One of the two is probably implied sarcasm, though it’s difficult to tell exactly which. At least “Strays” has some good intentions, holding down this simple ballad with an acoustic guitar and a melodica. The storyline revolves around a man wanting to prove he still loves his partner many years into their relationship, even though they’ve seemingly grown apart. In Kasher’s world they’re just two weary people, wandering the streets together under the realization that maybe they’re best off together because they won’t find anyone better. “Cold Love” is another bouncy pop song with jangly guitars mixed among the organ and horns, and despite its apparent warmth the title describes it best. In other words it’s a whole lot of fun as Kasher talks about being “tired of this vanilla existence”. One of the most interesting songs on “The Game of Monogamy” is “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost”, in which Kasher tries to figure out where his life went from full of promise to completely marginalized. This exercise mostly involves re-examining his youth and past relationships and delivering such intricacies as “I wanna have sex with all my old girlfriends again/I swear it’s just the familiarity I miss/Aw, fuck it/It’s just typical male conquest/You know the world don’t revolve around your prick/just ask your old girlfriends”. Speaking of sex, “No Fireworks” is all about the lack of them in the bedroom. You may be surprised to learn that not every long-term relationship results in a completely satisfying sex life, so Kasher just reminds us all of that fact (as he does a few times on the album). As if you needed another reason to avoid doing something so “foolish” as to get married. And hey, “The Prodigal Husband” is about cheating on your spouse and the destruction that leads to. To sum it all up, Kasher closes the album with the 5+ minute epic “Monogamy”, which uses a full string section and virtually every instrument in between to tell the tale of a bright young couple. They get married, buy a house, furniture and a dog, lose touch with friends, attend their kids’ sporting events, lose intimacy in the bedroom, get buried underneath a mortgage, and then wonder where all the love went. So nice to end this wildly upbeat record on yet another upbeat note.

For those of you happily married, giving a listen to “The Game of Monogamy” basically tells you just how wrong things might turn out for you down the road. It’s not exactly something you should want to hear, and Tim Kasher isn’t exactly the kind of guy you want to be hearing it from. Just because the guy has so much trouble in his relationships with women doesn’t mean you’ll experience the same things. At the very least though, he’s brutally honest and deals with a reality that so many people don’t want to believe in. The divorce rate is somewhere around 50% these days, and that’s not counting those still trapped in loveless marriages or cheat on their spouses and never get caught/are forgiven. To put the nicest spin possible on this, Kasher is a realist. The thing is, we live in a world that tries so hard to look at the positives, even if watching the news gives us the opposite. And despite all the issues that tend to reveal themselves the longer you’re in a relationship with someone, there’s a distinct lack of focus on the great benefits a long-term partner or marriage can bring you. If we all bought into the hype that this album spreads, most of us would wind up far unhappier with our lives than we are now and largely alone for the majority of it. There’s something to be said for monogamy, and perhaps not listening to this album and its overall pessimism can help you avoid the pitfalls it describes. Should you be bearing the battle scars of love or just are content to call yourself single at the moment, there’s some interesting music on “The Game of Monogamy” you may want to check out. Instrumentally these songs are pretty damn good, and though unpleasant, Kasher’s way with words is second to none. Sometimes it’s fun just to hear the intense details he hands out like candy on Halloween. This certainly isn’t a record for everybody, but if you’re not too uncomfortable with a bit of anti-relationship music, there’s enjoyment to be had. Fair warning though, while you could fall head over heels in love with “The Game of Monogamy” and listen to it intently over and over again, there’s a good chance you’ll become tired of it and eventually cheat on it with another album. Ah well, you weren’t the kind of person that can commit to one record for the rest of your life anyways.

Buy “The Game of Monogamy” from Amazon

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