Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Morgan Davis
03/17/2009 | Spectrumculture.com | www.spectrumculture.com/2009/03/cursive-mama-im-swollen.html | Album Review
I sympathize with bands that have devoted cult followings. As much as having a sizable, loyal fan base can help a band in terms of touring and attention, with it comes what amounts to an indentured servitude: your adoring fans will only be adoring as long as you continue to do what you've always done, never changing and definitely never "selling out." Cursive's Tim Kasher knows this better than anyone, with many of the loyal fans and acolytes he's accumulated over the years, namely Conor Oberst, having long since eclipsed him in terms of fame and critical notoriety with their own projects while he remains in his now decade-old group. If Cursive's breakthrough The Ugly Organ was a now-classic bitter examination of the lower echelons of indie fame, the new Mama, I'm Swollen is an even more bitter resignation to Kasher's fate, stuck in the trenches of the indie world's dark outer rim.

The album's theme can essentially be summed up in the opening line to "From the Hips," which has Kasher proclaiming "I'm at my best/ When I'm at my worst" with an almost heartbreaking gasp, the words seemingly tumbling out of his mouth like someone talking in their sleep during a nightmare. Kasher has gotten more mileage out of his love-hate relationship with his fans than other songwriters have gotten out of classics like unrequited love, or sophomoric political ideals, every line of utter disdain inevitably followed by sweet nothings whispered into the listener's ears. It's by no means surprising that many critics, most of whom are admitted newcomers to Kasher's works, can't stomach the self-deprecation inherent to Cursive's music. But for those of us who have basically grown up with the band, Kasher is a Christ-like figure of sorts, dying a little on each record for each of our sins. As awful as this sounds, it's comforting to hear that he's still suffering, just like us.

Where Happy Hollow was more like Cursive-meets-the-Hold Steady with its focus on small-town characters and religious breakdowns, Mama sits somewhere in the space between Domestica and The Ugly Organ, the suffering of Kasher again at the forefront of things. While it's doubtful Cursive will ever be able to top The Ugly Organ or match its musical acrobatics, Mama is perhaps more focused and tight and as such could be the best entry point for someone unfamiliar with the band. For all its hooks and energy, Organ was nonetheless a difficult album at times, its rage less subtle than the best jabs Kasher offers on Mama.

Mama has its moments of weirdness and adventure, too, with standout "Let Me Up" almost sounding like Kasher's attempt at Southern Soul, albeit with his trademark nasally snarl. Elsewhere, "I Couldn't Love You" finds Kasher fronting a more dangerous version of the Libertines' basic sound, while "We're Going to Hell" is borderline bedroom pop with especially sinister undertones. Mama, I'm Swollen is undoubtedly a prominent return to form; as much as it isn't exactly anything new and as much as it won't affirm lives in the way The Ugly Organ did, it's a perfect example of the things Cursive does best, even if its creator unabashedly hates the formula.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

LP / CD / MP3