Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Michael Phillips
03/12/2009 | | | Feature
I first got the chance to interview Tim Kasher directly after the release of Cursive's Happy Hollow. A friend and I drove two and a half hours to Buffalo, NY and caught up with the band in the lobby of a Best Western Express not far from the venue. Their tour manager told us that they needed to soundcheck soon, but we could have twenty minutes to do the interview. I hit a button on my oversized tape recorder and began to ask my questions. It went poorly. Without hyperbole, I had listened to one of Cursive's records everyday from the age of sixteen to eighteen. I memorized and analyzed their whole catalog, which largely consisted of songs about failed relationships and the difficulty of everyday life. I don't know why these things resonated with me, but they did. Anyway, given the chance to sit and talk with the man, I didn't have a hell of a lot to say. There is a common phrase that suggests never meet your idols. I think what people mean by that is that in humanizing them you'll somehow be let down. But the reason that Cursive meant so much to me was their ability to tap into that humanizing aspect. I didn't know what to say to him, and my research didn't help. What we recorded was mostly unusable.

One of the few questions I was able to crackle out was about the fan response to Happy Hollow. The record strayed from the band's typical lyrical content and dealt with a fictionalized town serving as a critique for the social and political situations found in middle America. People were confused. There was a vocal response that this was not the Cursive they had grown accustomed to, and what was expected was painstakingly personal lyricism they associated the band with. I shared in most of those sentiments. Tim said something to the effect of not wanting to repeat himself, and that he hoped fans would be able to appreciate him for more than one style of writing. That response is the reason why Cursive's new record Mamma, I'm Swollen is there most devastating to date.

In many ways the album is a return to form for the band. Musically Mamma, I'm Swollen has a far less produced sound, allowing the band to better highlight their current instrumentation . Thematically it takes on heartbreak and the difficulties of performance, which is hardly new territory for any familiar with Cursive's discography. This time around, however, the playful irony and passive self-deprecation has been overwhelmed by a staggering and blunt honesty. Kasher is more candid than he has ever been, using his signature screams and rant-esque singing to blend the desperation, confusion, doubt, and hope of a man who's spent the better part of his life on the stage. The questions that seem to resonate thematically throughout Mamma, I'm Swollen are addressed in the album's closing track "What Have I Done?":

Are these the best tales I can spin? / A boy waiting to begin / A man of no memoirs / And you're young and you're gonna be someone / And you're old and you're ashamed of what you've become / Well take a look around you / You're preaching to the choir.

Cursive's success has been the documentation of their personal failures. That conflict is played out over forty minutes of some of their best music to date, accented with personalized liner notes and one of the finest packaged records I've seen in a long time. Though it is questionable where the band goes from here, they have managed to capture the best elements of their career, shaping an album both passionate and challenging by recognizing exactly what it is the band represents.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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