According to the Book of Genesis, even God took a day of rest after long, hard days of work. Cursive took three years.
"I think we kind of over-promoted Ugly Organ," Tim Kasher, lead singer of Cursive, reflects on a Monday afternoon from a mall-an ironic place to be, given his opinions expressed on the new album, Happy Hollow. Of the break that followed, Kasher proclaims, "One of the best times in my life actually, just taking a break." You can't say that he didn't deserve it, or that it was all rest and relaxation.
"It was confusing for us to figure out how to follow up, do another record; you don't want to cash in on it," Kasher explains. "We want to make a different record each time we do it. I don't want to make a bad sequel. But I just have to remember that music doesn't work that way."
Cursive felt the need to start fresh. "We just wanted to figure it out, to try and be aware of what we wrote in the past and making sure that we weren't recreating it," Kasher says.
Changes have manifested themselves in interesting ways. A lineup change left Cursive without its cellist, Greta Cohn, and Kasher seemed to have left his diary entry-like relationship songs behind for a more accusatory bent on the Bible belt.
"By the end of Ugly Organ, I really felt like I got over that," Kasher says. "I kind of said my peace about it." Amen.
A time to speak
After rising to the challenge, they began to create what became Happy Hollow, Cursive's fifth full-length album.
"[We took] more of a metaphysical approach to songwriting," Kasher describes. "You don't really think about it, you just do."
Musically, they tried to branch out. "I think we kind of wanted to do a hard rock record, but I don't think that really worked out," he confesses. "But I think, since that was our approach from the start, as a result, we ended up with some upbeat stuff."
Not to be confused with happiness and satisfaction, mind you; Kasher means "upbeat" in only the intensely melodic yet discordant way. He continues, "That seems to be one of the main things that people are recognizing as a difference between past stuff we've done."
Part of that upbeat tone comes from a new addition to the band: a brass section.
"Initially, when we'd use strings on Ugly Organ, it was just our way of trying to express ourselves in a different way, trying to take a different approach," Kasher states. "This is just that all over again."
From trumpets to trombones, saxophones to tubas, the brass doesn't create so much of a marching band sound, but something more akin to the deep bellow from the pit of a human soul.
This evolution (or big bang) goes for more of a staccato appeal.
"It's more, maybe, listenable," offers Kasher. "I think that it comes with maturity, getting a little bit older, becoming less scared of likable music. I just wanted to write all the best possible music we can come up with."
The additional instruments also change the feel of certain songs. "Retreat!" is a lost sheep's cry for God's return to our world. It uses the saxophone and vocals as a soulful tool swirled in the dissonant wind of chaos. It's a smoky blues night in a downstairs bar, a sinful indulgence.
Lyrically Happy Hollow hits a whole different loaf of bread than fans might be comfortable with. Beginning with the concept of a small town (dubbed "Happy Hollow"), Kasher attacks the American dream. From pies to priests, Kasher's omnipotent words highlight a new set of characters, all dealing with the inability to be what they have been told they would become.
"It's nowhere specific," Kasher faithfully attests. "One important thing is that it is this fictional town, but it's definitely set in America.
"I think there's something romantic about small towns," he continues. "There are a lot of small towns around us, a lot of conservative-isms."
In many ways, Kasher hits the nail right on the crucifix. His merciless judgments portray the disappointment that so many people face when they wake up at 40 and realize that their life is vastly different from what they expected.
"That's what it is, mid-life crisis stories," Kasher says.
For example, "Dorothy at Forty" attacks the unrealistic American ideology. Dorothy (our iconic symbol for a pure kind girl with ruby red shoes) is now 40 and realizes everything she thought she was going to have and be only happens only in her dreams. Kasher sings, "We're not the kids we once were, we can't be the adults we want to be/Dreams are all you have, dreams have held you back/Dreamers never live, only dream of it." Dorothy's upset. She feels cheated, and the anger of her disillusioned dreams is describe as, "Our piece of the pie can't fill our bellies/more square inches, picket fences/clothes on the line, naps at noontime/more of our fair share, more of our birthright/more of what we're owed." Dorothy must have never got the e-mail about reality. But she doesn't have too long to ponder of her state of affairs, because she has to wake up and go to work.
"I like what turned out to be a movement of artists in America becoming really disenchanted in all this wealth that we've gathered up," Kasher reasons. "The whole thing about capitalism and apple pie, this enchantment about the American dream. They built us up to make us all think that we have a chance to go to the top."
Kasher also critiques our society's culture of beautiful people. In "So-So Gigolo," he follows a girl in her attempts to find fame and fortune, singing, "If you got the looks and you got the goods/I suppose you can make it anywhere you want to get made/and you want to get made." With such glaring truths, it's a bit hard to chew a double cheeseburger made on the backyard grill and watch baseball and feel like a good person.
Happy Hollow is populated with a collection of disenchanted townsfolk with skeletons bigger than their confessional booths. One recurring character is the Father of the church, a man who, throughout the course of the album, deals with homosexuality ("Bad Sects"), the challenges and pleasures in "converting" young girls ("At Conception"), and an assortment of other people attacking his church and beliefs. God bless America.
"As a country, we've just got a barrier and we're really wide-eyed," Kasher says. Happy Hollow seems to be his exploration into the American psyche and analyzing what there really is right in front of us.
A time to dance
This is no Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show, for there will not be as much spreading the Cursive Gospel that there once was.
"Basically, we're just not going to tour as much as we used to," Kasher admits. "We don't want it so bad, or need it so bad, the way that a group of young teen punks who are able to stay on the road for 11 months out of the year do."
As we speak, Kasher comes off a bit wiser, a bit more worn, a bit more comfortable with just being a man. "We do Cursive, but we don't want to be Cursive," he says. "We just want to kind of be us." It seems like he's made peace with himself.
However, if you do catch them on tour, they'll have a plethora of instruments, sure to crowd any stage. Touring with a trumpet, saxophone, trombone, and all the standards-along with the flavorful cello and accordion for flare-the sheer volume of awkwardly melodic noise that emits from the stage will bound to be impressive.
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 begins, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." Cursive took the time to create a very purposeful record. It could be the season of Cursive...but it's up to the greater forces to decide.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3