Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: Ben French
02/19/2003 | | | Album Review
"Emo" is second only to "alternative" as the most overused, ironic term in modern rock's lexicon. The word glorifies acts without any merit other than screamy vocals and pigeonholes artists striving to create a new sound. Thank heavens, then, for bands like Cursive, who prove why such words serve exactly no purpose.

The Nebraska act has already stretched its "emo" rock classification with such albums as 2000's "Domestica," a concept album about the dangers of romance and the aftershock of divorce. On "The Ugly Organ," the band experiments with new sounds and instrumentation, an exaggerated sense of mise en scene, and inverted song structures a plenty to produce a challenging, yet highly rewarding listen.

The liner notes present the album as a play, replete with stage directions for a cast of motley characters, including "Organist," "Harlequins," and "Harold, dressed in doctor's costume." Carnival organs, chiming bells and the cello of newcomer Gretta Cohn add a spooky, cinematic touch to the crunching guitar riffs and pounding drums. The stage production is a clever turn on the absurdity of rock operas, but singer Tim Kasher's dark lyrics are a more serious satire of the creative process of rock drama queens.

Admittedly, Kasher is not immune to the effects of crumbled relationships. On "Butcher the Song," we're on board for an angry car ride, where a lover attacks him for taking out his personal frustrations in his songwriting. Thankfully, Kasher and cohorts know the difference between using feigned emotional turmoil to boost sales and mining personal distress and anxiety to create vivid, powerful music.

Unlike the band's "emo" contemporaries, Cursive is not writing about childlike crushes or adolescent angst. Behind its dramatic front, "The Ugly Organ" covers everything from the emptiness of vengeful sex ("A Gentleman Caller") to the fear associated with pathetic loneliness ("The Recluse"). And with its peculiar approach, the album allows Cursive to avoid classification and transcend easy description.

The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

LP / CD / MP3