Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Matt Schild
03/16/2009 | | | Album Review
There's a difference between anger and bitterness. A huge, remarkable difference, even if it's sometimes hard to tell each one apart. Anger's that burning fire in your belly and your brain, bitterness is that cold lump that weighs you down. An angry person can keep going for years using it as fuel to plow forward, while a bitter one slowly crumbles under the weight of that emotional burden. One's a motivator, the other's a de-motivator.

Since Cursive's managed to stretch its career out for longer than a decade, it's safe to conclude that, no matter how uncomfortable and twisted its songwriting gets, it's not bitter. Angry, for sure, but not bitter. Mama, I'm Swollen finds Tim Kasher and company seething in the same anger that drove every one of its albums. Better yet, Mama, I'm Swollen doesn't just stew in that anger. It puts it to work, as its once super-angular guitars' most jagged edges are filed off with nods toward rock'n'roll conventions. Singer/guitarist Tim Kasher leaves behind the easy themes, closing the lid on the critical eye he pointed at well-off middle America on 2006's Happy Hollow (review) (Saddle Creek), to focus on a much bigger picture, notably the nature of modern life to leave its residents feeling trampled down and soulless. It'd be an existential quest if that term wasn't so mid-20th century.

As Cursive abandons the world of tangible problems for the slippery slopes of existential ones, it tempts inattentive listeners to get it confused with its emo-ish sounds of its early career. Don't fall into that trap: Mama, I'm Swollen isn't about the bitterness of failed marriages or other emo-kid concerns. It's a lesson on getting by in a world that could care less about you.

The album's best track, "Donkeys," salvages the morality out of a mountain of allusions to, of all things, Pinocchio, tempering the tale of the struggle against animalistic urges and temptation with an almost country-rock twist of its post-hardcore leanings. "From the Hips" works the same angle, with its narrator wanting not just to cast off civility, but enlightenment as well, to sink into a world where pleasure and pain were the only motivations; it cruises along slowly on a rather conventional take on Midwestern rock and tinny guitars. In "Caveman," the struggle against the id devolves -- literally -- into pure primitivism, while "Mama, I'm Satan" takes another turn down the moral spiral into decadence and despair as Cursive works up the slivers of barbed guitars from its nosiest releases. By the album's closing effort, "What Have I Done?" its moribund narrator wallows in a hotel room, reflecting on just how his life slipped away from him. He is bitter.

Cursive isn't. While Mama, I'm Swollen chronicles a man's decline through temptation into self-loathing, its thrust isn't aimed at the subject. It's aimed at the world that pushes its central figure into emotional oblivion. It's angry and lashing out, not wallowing and bitter -- a bitter act couldn't survive this long nor make an album this good.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

LP / CD / MP3