Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: Christine Beals
07/20/2004 | | | Album Review
I'm sure the irony of something so beautiful coming from an album entitled The Ugly Organ is no mistake. As I've said before, beauty lurks in the strangest places, and it definitely pervades Cursive's latest. This Omaha native band formed in 1995 and in that short span of time released three full length albums, numerous splits, frequent 7's to match, and a frenzy of tours. Their impressive 2000 album Domestica filtered rave reviews and also somewhat gave Saddle Creek label a leg up. Cursive being comfortable with the production of conceptual albums has released yet another stellar album. The Ugly Organ relies once again on being highly themed yet adds another dimension to their sound through enticing instrumentation resulting in something almost circus-like in sound.

ááááá A fundamental component to the album would have to be the thematic organ, which appears throughout in lyrics and sound. The whimsical liner notes present the album as a play, teeming with stage directions for a cast of assorted characters including "Organist," "Harlequins," and "Harold, dressed in doctor's costume." Jesting carnival organs, silvery bells and the enchanting cello of newcomer Gretta Cohn add an eerie and unforgettable touch to the menacing guitar riffs and pulsating drums. The stage production is an ingenious turn on the ridiculousness of rock operas, but singer Tim Kasher's shadowy lyrics are a more serious satire of the creative process of rock hoopla.

ááááá The range of instrumental experimentation on this release is something to contemplate. Cohn's cello is beautifully destructive. It whips through the perplexingly tuned guitars, forceful drums, and flaunting organ into a menagerie of musical delight. At other times the cello is hauntingly ghostly and Kasher's whispers seduce the ears in spookish gratification. Armed with an arsenal of instruments Kasher pulls out all the stops as his sorrowful, contemplative and sometimes melancholy self-reflective songwriting somehow simultaneously manage to establish a sense of ever present hope.

ááááá After a brief and menacing introduction, the album shifts into high gear with the addictive sound of "Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand." This is the utopian of starting points for an album. The song is raw and really commands the listener's attention through means of Kasher's edgy, sometimes screamed vocals amidst the chorus of extraordinary guitar sound, inventive cello and a clever rhythm track. Lyrics like "Our father, who art in heaven/ save me from this wreck I'm about to drown in/ didn't I learn anything counting out/my sins on rosary beads?" could have one envisioning choir practice but the forceful sound is quite the contraire. "The Recluse" being my favorite song on the album is quite poignant and the cello adds a spellbinding layer to the seductive sound of Kasher's vocalization. The exquisite ballad serenades with the tale of the unpleasantness and desperation acquainted with the hopelessness of one night stands. "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale" is truly a masterpiece and shows a more reserved side of Cursive. It's the story of a boy who magically came alive only to be crushed by a broken heart.

ááááá Unlike the band's "emo contemporaries," Cursive is not writing or singing about childlike happenstances or adolescent equations. Behind its dramatic fašade, The Ugly Organ covers everything from the emptiness of retaliating sex to the fear and self loathing associated with undesirable loneliness. Thankfully Cursive realizes the difference between using artificial emotional angst to boost sales and forging personal distress and anxiety to create vivid, powerful music. The band has a genre-defying sound that is almost unheard of in today's music endeavors and leaves the listener satisfied yet craving more. With this unique approach Cursive manages to avoid any one classification and transcend into there own merrymaking performing entity that makes listening an occasion of joyous jubilee.
The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

LP / CD / MP3