Reviews

I Am Gemini

Author: Ian Cohen
02/20/2012 | Pitchfork.com | www.pitchfork.com | Record Review
Credit where due: I Am Gemini is Cursive's weakest record by a disheartening margin, but its lyrics sheet sets a remarkably high standard for anti-piracy measures. I'm sorry, lyric sheet is something of a misnomer, this is a full-on libretto. Knowing the concept behind I Am Gemini is the easy part-- by now, you should know that every Cursive record is organized by some conceptual framework, and Tim Kasher has been more than happy to do the heavy lifting for us. Here, it's "twin brothers separated at birth, one good and one evil, their unexpected reunion in a house that is not a home ignites a classic struggle for the soul." Got all that? Now just try to imagine some misguided fool who downloaded this without the 13-page booklet laying out all the characters (which include twin sisters conjoined at the head), indicating "stage direction," and generally letting you know what the hell is going on. But if that sounds a little too Mars Volta for comfort, there's good reason. Kasher similarly leaves you impressed by his dedication to this project even as you have no way to meaningfully interact with it.

And that inability to connect is troubling. Because even while Cursive's Domestica and The Ugly Organ remain some of the most purposefully narcissistic albums to ever bear the emo tag, their lyrical acts of emotional martyrdom understandably inspired an intense cult. The feelings behind "The Recluse" and "The Night I Lost the Will to Fight" aren't exactly healthy, but they're human and worthy of being expressed where they could be related to rather than projected outwards. But lest you think Kasher was simply a breakup opportunist, the Good Life's Album of the Year proved he could make a compelling, fictional couples record. And though uneven, Happy Hollow and Mama, I'm Swollen had plenty of expressive moments where Kasher got outside of himself in order to make the same withering points about religion and consumerism as he did about relationships.

But here, Kasher's intent is less clear. Is it some sort of morality play, a grotesquerie exposing greed, ambition, and exploitation? You get some clues in songs that hint at underlying substance abuse, sibling rivalry, and schizophrenia, but the themes are cruelly underdeveloped, hinting at a prequel Kasher forgot to inform us about. If you zoom out far enough, you can ascertain the major plot points easily enough, and Kasher pads things out with references to homemade elixirs, amateur surgery, avian metaphors, Greek mythology, the book of Genesis, Frankenstein, and Freaks. But none of it's in service of establishing any sort of wider resonance or universality of the story, instead just spiking the punch with false potency as cadences bulge with overripe penmanship.

Conceptual tomfoolery aside, the music aligns with Kasher's increasing tendency to sand off the edges of his prickly attitude and serrated vocals, and I Am Gemini is by far Cursive's most playful record and almost fun at points. But it isn't necessarily catchier than their previous work, lacking the abrasion and unnerving over-sharing. Cursive were never the place to go for hooks, so how are Kasher's strengths transferrable? While Gemini gets off to an auspicious start with "This House Alive" and the new wave-ish "The Sun and Moon", unlike the "singles" from a similarly linear record like the Streets' A Grand Don't Come For Free, they're all but meaningless as vignettes. And soon thereafter, Gemini loses itself in its plot turns with an undifferentiated mash of rambling, almost randomly pitched vocal melodies, goofy keyboards, buzzing riffs, sarcastic harmonies, and a mocking delivery that sees its subject material as beneath him.

At one point on "Wowowow", Kasher sings in puns taken from Cursive titles, and this kind of meta exercise makes a sad kind of sense within the context of I Am Gemini's impenetrability. After all, main characters like Cassius, Pollock, Young Cassius, Young Pollock, and the Narrator are all voiced by the same guy the same exact way, a more concrete way of essentially pointing out that the whole of I Am Gemini is Kasher talking to himself.
I Am Gemini

I Am Gemini

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