Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Jon Wolper
05/01/2009 | University of Maryland Diamondback | www.diamondbackonline.com | Live Show Preview
To this day, Cursive has released eight proper albums and a host of other EPs, singles and splits. The band released its first full-length record 12 years ago and has gradually grown a feverish cult fan base since.

Why is it, then, that when the band's newest album - titled Mama, I'm Swollen - was released in March, Target advertised the record in the store's "Artists on the Verge" display?

"I have to get used to the idea," said Ted Stevens, the band's lead guitarist, regarding Cursive's noticeable recent bits of publicity.

"Maybe Target, in their good grace, is doing some advertising for us," he added, with a laugh.

On Sunday, Cursive will be bringing its live show to the Black Cat in Washington. The attendance at the show, which Stevens thinks will produce "a lot of satisfied people," may have been bumped up by the band's newfound exposure - namely, its recent network television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman.

"We've never had exposure like that," Stevens said in an interview with The Diamondback. "We're hearing from a lot of people we haven't heard from in a long time, and we realized that maybe we are kind of out there."

At the very least, it seems the band has been able to toe the line between the underground and the relative mainstream.

Cursive's newest release is a characteristically intense entry into the band's catalog. The only thing it seems to be missing upon first listen is a property that differentiates it from the band's previous albums. For instance, 2003's The Ugly Organ molded itself around spates of cello, and 2006's Happy Hollow let a horn section do the heavy lifting.

The idiosyncrasies are still there, though, according to Stevens. This time around, they're just not as obvious.

"It's a matter of what fits best into what was being written," he said. "I guess it's subtle on the new record, but it has its own little quirks, too. They don't stand out as hard as the cello or horns [did]."

"[There are] a lot of saxophones and flute," he said.

The flute is an interesting instrumental inclusion for a band so prone to depressing lyricism and distortion-heavy guitars. It was added in the interest of producing intriguing natural sounds instead of more synthetic ones like the scattered Mellotron on Happy Hollow.

Although these decisions are ultimately a collaborative effort, much of the creation of the music comes down to singer and guitarist Tim Kasher.

"Generally Tim brings in the meat of the material, the majority of the songs, and I'll fill in the blanks here and there," Stevens said. "Then everything goes through a pretty critical process where the band learns the song and writes parts and decides whether or not to cut the song."

This strict method to writing and discarding ideas forces the band to bring many ideas to the table.

"We strive to write about 20-plus songs for every album," Stevens said. "This record could have sounded 100 different ways."

The way it ended up sounding, though, is vintage Cursive. Many of the songs are as catchy as they are dark, as subtle as they are dynamic. Kasher is reliably emotional in his vocal delivery, and the band has become more than adept at fashioning some absolutely crushing moments.

Maybe this refined sound could be the reason the band has been receiving such heightened recognition as of late.

Stevens, though, prefers not to think too far in advance.

"We're all too realistic to know what's going to happen for the group and if anything is going to change," he said. "But we're sure trying to play more and get out there, get our music heard more."

Cursive will play at the Black Cat in Washington on Sunday. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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