Friday, July 28, 2006

Gettin' The Nod: Cursive's Happy Hollow

So Cursive's ditched the strings and Jenny Lewis cameos and while their fifth full-length release Happy Hollow may be light a cello; it's not shy a single ounce of ambition. Tim Kasher, Cursive's guitarist/vocalist centerpiece and self-styled Indie-Emo pasquinade certainly hasn't muted, or even mellowed his delivery; he sings, croons, shouts and even screeches throughout the album's thirteen tracks. And in lieu of the cellos that defined the sound of their last album- The Ugly Organ, Cursive's deployed a fresh battery of instruments expounding upon the core band's normal array: most notably Happy Hollow boasts the most ruckus and riotous horns you'll hear on any Indie album this year. And if the brass isn't enough to put Hollow on an instrumental level with The Ugly Organ, Cursive's guitar work has never sounded more monstrous. The strength of these two instruments in unison- blaring horns and huge guitars- is so wild, that the result dabbles in actual dissonance. This cacophonous tinkering is a true departure from the Ugly Organ's orchestral and ever-melodic appeal making Happy Hollow a resounding confirmation that Cursive is still hungry and interested in playful experimentation and musical progression.

Still, despite laudable instrumentation Hollow has a high mark to meet in a post-Ugly Organ world.

Not only was Ugly Organ an unerringly clever and poignant concept-album, but the level of song-craftsmanship coupled with Kasher's brutally touching and deft frontmanship pushed the entire release far beyond the precipice of a defining Indie Rock LP and into the stratosphere where you'll find music's instant masterpiece mingling in each other's respective glow.

So how does Cursive's 2006 release stack up against their 2003 opus?

Well, Happy Hollow does reach valiantly for the lofty precedent established by its predecessor. Actually it stretches, leaps and claws to be on par with
The Ugly Organ... but ultimately Happy Hollow it never attains the same magnificent elevation. That's not to say Cursive has failed- far from it. But they just haven't managed to over-achieved, again.

Organ was and still is a brilliantly cohesivene, multi-leveled commentary on not only the state of Kasher's personal life, but also his artistic life and the relevance of those dynamics in relation to the current Indie-Rock climate. In contrast Hollow strives for that kind of grandiosity, but never manages to shoulder as much sagely relevant weight or feel nearly as emotionally vast. But it's not like Tim and the boys shied away from heavier and direr material: the album launches savage satirical strikes at the foundations of Americana with Tim firing his always formidable analogies like artillery shells in a distinctly anti-theocratic bombardment. And while one can argue such topics are more socially pressing than the trials and woes of Kasher's personal life, this new subject matter lacks for exactly that reason: art is rarely as effective when it's consumed by a sense of social consciousness, as opposed to a feral need for emotional catharsis. The resulting album is in the same vein of its masterpiece precursor, but the highs aren't
ever as stirring and the lows aren't nearly as brooding.

Still, in a year riddled with bands releasing follow-ups to enormously significant prior work, Cursive's latest full-length album hits far closer to the mark than other artists who've garnered ten times the hype. Cursive remains a dependable Indie-Rock source of artistry and thoughtful creativity.


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