Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: by Laura Hamlett
03/04/2003 | Playback St Louis | | Album Review
If you're at all familiar with Bright Eyes, one of two bands fronted by boy genius Conor Oberst, you've undoubtedly heard of Cursive. The bands share members, they share inspiration, they share a label (Oberst's Saddle Creek, from Omaha). And they don't write bubblegum, that's for sure.

The Ugly Organ has some of the most beautiful songs you're likely to hear on an indie record this year. It also has some of the most angst-filled and noisy songs. Frontman Tim Kasher constructed the album as part concept album, part tongue-in-cheek satire. Take another look at the title, and you've got an idea of the satire; the sounds on the disc fully explore the range of emotions, most notably of sexual encounter: softness, beauty, rising action, explosion, catharsis, denouement. Through it all, Kasher maintains a highly aware and self-deprecating tone, as in "Art Is Hard": "Regurgitate some sorry tale/about a boy who sells his love affairs."

Bathed in a gentle glow is "The Recluse," a sad song about waking in a room that isn't yours-and wishing desperately that you could stay: "I wake alone in a woman's room I hardly know/I wake alone/and pretend that I am finally home." A modern-day Pinocchio tale, "Driftwood: A Fairy Tale" is another with a lingering melody, a gently aching song to fill the void. "Staying Alive" is meandering, mellow, and starry, as Kasher warns, "There are things far too dark to comprehend."

Falling into the angry, angst-ridden category are tracks like "Butcher the Song," in which the tension is as palpable as the notes that poke and prod the listener. Kasher's got stage directions before the verses (as he often does throughout the album): "The car. Riding home. Girl sits with her arms crossed. Her thoughts audible.//'So rub it your dumb lyrics. Yeah that's the time and/place to wring out your bullshit...I'll stop speaking for you if you stop speaking for me.'" Behind the forceful drumbeats and guitar chords is a haunting cello played by Gretta Cohn, a rich instrumental enhancement throughout the album. Kasher shouts the words to "A Gentleman Caller" as, behind his lyrics, plays a noisy and frenetic beat; the cacophony gives way to soaring strings and hopeful "doo do doos."

"Harold Weathervane" is a rising song with a backbone of strings; it conjures images of a long, dark alleyway, filled with shadows. Plinking organ keys open "Bloody Murderer," yet another tune with a mental filmtrack (Jack the Ripper, anyone?); unspoken stage instructions end the song: "All ghosts 'Oh Oh Oh Oh.'"
The Ugly Organ, as concept album or otherwise, works-more and more on multiple listens. By taking all that's sacred about his own life and using it for our entertainment, Cursive's Kasher has crafted a truly interesting and emotionally engaging album that is miles ahead of-and nothing at all like-what we've come to expect. It's so disorienting, you'll want to pretend you are finally home.

The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

LP / CD / MP3