Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Happy Hollow

Author: Sarah Henning
02/16/2007 | Anchorage Daily News | | Live Show Preview
In 2002, music journalists began invading Omaha, Neb., with one condescending objective: An indie scene in the midst of all those cow pies? Impossible.

Bright Eyes went national in a big way that year, and as frontman Connor Oberst became indie cool personified, his peers also turned into college radio darlings: The Faint. Desaparecidos. Cursive. Neva Dinova. And, by unlikely association, L.A.'s Rilo Kiley.

Music writers from Rolling Stone, Spin, even The New York Times, packed up their ironic T-shirts and thronged to Omaha as if Ziggy Stardust himself had landed a spaceship in the state's cornfields.

By 2004, the rock writers were distracted by some other shiny spoon. But Omaha's musicians stayed put, drank their Stella and returned to the Saddle Creek Records studio.

Cursive bassist Matt Maginn said the buzz was nice, but sort of missed the point. "We like the other bands, so it's fine with us that we got lumped together, but really, if you're looking for similar sounds, none of the bands really sound alike," said Maginn, 32. "The real advantage wasn't the publicity. As young musicians, the advantage was being able to share tour equipment with each other, contacts, a local label, really build something together."

Maginn and his bandmates play Saturday in Wendy Williamson Auditorium with Kill Rock Stars artists The Paper Chase. The concert marks KRUA 88.1-FM's 15th year on the air at UAA.

A quartet known for witty lyrics and a slightly disturbed beauty, Cursive toured with The Cure in 2004 and has been drooled over by The New York Times. But the band's newest album, "Happy Hollow," keeps it real, Nebraska style -- meaning, they still write from the perspective of four ordinary dudes who love home but intellectually scrap with what they see as a conservative, sometimes myopic, environment.

Their latest CD is like Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street" for the iPod crowd. The disc tells the stories of oddball characters living in a fictitious Midwestern small town called "Happy Hollow." The sonic portraits inevitably lead to discussion of larger religious, political and social issues.

Of course, the most interesting characters -- including an ambivalent male prostitute and a worn down, post-Oz Dorothy -- are also the most confused. As in "So-So Gigolo," where vocalist Tim Kasher sings "I'm not exactly a salesman/ Sure, there's a product I'm selling/ Guess you could say I'm an actor/ But acting's not what they're after."

Many lyrics empathize with the underdog and mock hypocrisy, especially within religion. The whimsical, upbeat instrumentation on "At Conception" contrasts with the melancholy story of Jeanie, a young woman whose boyfriend's away at war. She gets more than consolation from the local priest. He gets her pregnant. She gets lines such as "I'm hardly the Virgin Mary/ And you're no carpenter."

Maginn said the band members, who grew up Catholic, have always made a point to write honestly about their personal spiritual struggles, too. He acknowledges they offer more questions than answers. "I would say in general we're encouraging focusing on being a good person and good part of your community, rather than how many times you show up at church."

The songs on this disc abandon the guitar-driven rock model, propelled instead by pulsating percussion and whatever hint of a melody the vocalist carves out. Although the band has tinkered with horns before, this record uses a brass section as punctuation on nearly every track, a technique that will sound familiar to fans of Modest Mouse.

"I think really the sound progression came from an idea to maybe have a little more fun," Maginn said. "You know, to make it sound more disturbing, more odd, more off. Chaotic, I suppose. Like life."
Happy Hollow

Happy Hollow

LP / CD / MP3