Reviews

Cursive's Domestica

05/01/2000 | Aversion.com | Feature
Anyone saying indie rock is free from the pressures of the mainstream music industry is either a complete idiot or sadly misinformed. Though the summer play lists of two million teenaged fans and programming honchos at MTV don't rest upon another successful release, simply nobody in the indie community wants to disappoint their hard-won fans.

Cursive's Tim Kasher knows the pressures as well as anyone else. As the driving force behind Saddle Creek Records' indie/emo outfit, Kasher feels the usual pre-release pinch coming awaiting the release of the band's third full-length, Domestica, due out June 20. There's an added measure of artistic pressure on the act, this time around, though. After dissolving the act following 1998's The Storms of Early Summer: The Semantics of Song (Saddle Creek), Cursive's latest work needed to justify his flip-flop in his decision to lay the band to rest.

"I personally felt the pressure of breaking up this band and then saying it was a bad idea, let's do it again. Not only was it releasing another album's worth of material, it was also trying to justify this is why we got back together," he said. "I really felt it had to be changed up or refresh itself in some manner, but yet still be the same band."

Gathering up the usual suspects, with bassist Matt Maginn and drummer Clint Schnase baking up Kasher's vocal and guitar duties, as well as bringing in guitarist Ted Stevens, from Omaha's Lullaby for the Working Class, Domestica finds the band twisting its sound into new wrinkles without abandoning the band's established style. With a trumped up sense of texture and dynamics, the album sees the band swinging between its most twinkly and its hardest moments to date, a change Kasher finds surprising even in hindsight.

"I didn't expect it to be harder," he said. "If anything, I expected with every year that I get older, and we're kind of getting closer and closer to being the older men of indie rock, that you'd get softer. I didn't expect it to go in that direction."

In fact, Cursive's newfound sense of power wasn't at all what the quartet envisioned upon its reunion, though band dynamics would soon prove otherwise. "When we got back together, the plan would be that we would be playing significantly lighter," Kasher said with a brief chuckle. "When we get together, especially when we got together again, we just have this passion to beat things out. Every song wanted to go in that direction, I suppose."

Anyone going into Domestica looking for a brand new flavor of Cursive will probably be let down, however. Though the band's dynamics took a slight tweaking after returning from the imposed hiatus, the combo still relies heavily on its standard tricks.

"In some respects I think everyone's going to have different perceptions, especially the further you get into people who don't really listen to Cursive," Kasher said. "I feel like that's when it's going to get into the heavy metal or hardcore argument, where it's like 'It all sounds the same.' People who don't listen to hardcore they can't tell the difference between bands. Using that same analogy, I think we're very much the same band still. I don't think people will notice."

While Kasher shows the same post-production doubts plaguing any artist reflecting on his work, anyone with any type of background with his band should have no problem picking out the new direction it took. In the end, however, Kasher gets over the skepticism inherent in looking at one's own work, finding satisfaction, though a reserved one, at the act's musical progress.

"I feel like we've managed to find more versatility on this record, at least between the ranges between subtle and loud," he said a hint of justified pride seeping into his voice.

More than anything, however, Domestica sees Kasher's lyrical focus taking on new dimensions. The album sits between the cracks of everyday life, looking at the commonplace turmoil inherent in the day to day. It's a switch in songwriting styles Kasher purposely set out to make with this record.

"I wanted to try to personalize it," he said. "I thought that everything I wrote about was really big, as in universal ideas, and I thought this time around maybe I should go for really small ideas. That's kind of the idea where Domestica came from, the very private things that occur in our lives. I see those as the small things, not that they are inconsequential."

It's no wonder Kasher finds his themes shifting from the grandiose to the diminutive ideas of Domestica. Following on the heels of a divorce, Domestica spends much of its time chronicling the private give and take of shaky relationships, be it in sobering "The Lament of Pretty Baby," or the resigned "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst." Though a certain symmetry exists between the rough outline between Kasher's personal life and the themes on the album, he maintains the subject matter on Domestica is his least autobiographical record to date. Rather than anthologizing his personal experiences in song, they were digested and reprocessed to come up with songs reflecting general ideas but not specific experiences.

"I thought that compared to the last album we did, there was a lot of distance in the lyrics," Kasher said. "It was a different approach I took, and it was an approach I was told was more academic. Maybe as a result, it was a little colder, but it still expressed certain feelings or attitude, but through more of a technical approach."

Distance doesn't equal garbage in Cursive's case, however. As with many of the bands on Omaha's Saddle Creek Records, the band's lyrics prove to be an important piece of the band's output. The weight of the band's themes finds the band moving counter to the trend in indie rock to fill vocal tracks with less than powerful material. It's a trend Kasher knows all too well.

"I feel like with a lot of bands, sometimes you shouldn't read the lyrics," he said. "I feel like oftentimes I have a tendency to really avoid reading the lyrics to songs because I really love the song and I really love the melody that they are singing, and sometimes when you find out what they are saying, that all changes."

Neither falling into the poetic depths of the world of singer/songwriters nor filling lyrics with quickly written tripe, Cursive finds itself wrestling with both popular extremes. It's a struggle the band continues to fight musically, as well, never fully throwing down with an easily identifiable genre. Too introspective for the hard rock crowd and not parading enough shades of post-hardcore for emo kids, Cursive doesn't wield the weight of genre association to help attract fans, putting it in a position at times difficult for new ears to pick apart. It's a position Kasher doesn't seem too nervous about, however, pointing to the advantages of artistic freedom his position gives him.

"At one point, a long time ago, I saw the advantages of playing hard rock or soft rock," he said. "Basically I saw the advantages of going so far into a genre that you have a set, because you know that there are a lot of people out there that are really into that kind of music. I think I ended up forgetting about that ultimately. I think we ended up just being too lukewarm for people who like hard rock and too hard for people who like soft rock. That's fine."
Cursive's Domestica

Cursive's Domestica

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