After yet another sensational release with the Good Life in 2004 with Album of the Year, Kasher came back to Cursive, despite the departure of cellist Gretta Cohn. With Cohn's departure, Cursive was left with a vacant chair, which contributed to much of The Ugly Organ's unique and popular sound. Prior to Cohn's recruitment to Cursive, Kasher had said he had grown tired of traditional rock music, and liked experimenting with new instruments. To fill the void of Cohn's unexpected departure, Cursive has finally returned after a three-year absence with a loud burst of horns – trumpets, trombones, and sax's, oh my – on their newest Saddle Creek offering, Happy Hollow.
Just like there was no easy way to follow up The Ugly Organ, there's no easy way to review Happy Hollow. From a completely objective and stale standpoint, one could simply state that Happy Hollow just doesn't live up to its predecessors. But on another level, you have to give the guys in Cursive credit for pushing forward despite adversity, and they pushed forward with an entirely contrasting album from The Ugly Organ. Happy Hollow is much more sonically aggressive, considerably slower, less lyrically personal, and recalls many similarities to 2000's Domestica.
However, there are evident shortcomings to Happy Hollow completely independent from any album-by-album comparisons. Most notably, the overall songwriting isn't as strong, both lyrically and musically. While many of the songs, either mellow or rocking, sound the same – choppy, standard "Cursive" guitar work, weird notes, heavy distortion – which isn't commendable, the lyrical weaknesses, however, are efforts worthy of such praise. Prior to this, a solid majority of Cursive's lyrics – both Kasher's and guitarist Ted Steven's – were deeply personal. On Happy Hollow, the band tried something new, writing a concept album revolving around religious themes in a fictional Western town – Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them, anyone? In the end, Kasher comes off sounding pretentious and awkward, as he challenges creationism from a Darwinian viewpoint. This attempt towards a new writing perspective is admirable and completely justified, but ultimately – at least on this release – Cursive are better personal songwriters.
Despite all this seemingly harsh criticism, the complete truth is Happy Hollow is a respectable indie-rock record. Although it doesn't live up to Cursive's previous two releases, which were both exemplary, Happy Hollow is still good, or at least, good enough. This isn't so far-gone or crummy that it'll alienate Cursive fans for life; and Cursive may never again release albums as good as Domestica or The Ugly Organ – something every album they ever release will ever be ultimately compared to – but nothing changes the fact that the musicians in Cursive are terrific at what they do. Sure, Happy Hollow has some dry filler, but it also has some great songs like "Dorothy at Forty," "Big Bang," "Bad Sects," "So-So Gigalo," and "Into the Fold."
You've got to applaud Cursive for the changes they attempted on Happy Hollow because some work quite well, while others don't. It's taxing enough to have a respectable follow-up after The Ugly Organ without too deeply disappointing too many fans, but that was ultimately inevitable. At the end of Happy Hollow, I feel neither overtly disappointed nor ecstatic, but chiefly satisfied.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / MP3