Reviews

The Ugly Organ

04/01/2003 | Alternative Press | Feature
Tim Kasher has been screaming for years and it's gotten him nowhere. But, alas, here comes Cursive with The Ugly Organ - a record you couldn't ignore if you tried.

"Look at this!" Kasher screams, pulling his shirt to his face. "It's ruined - I might as well just forget about it."

Kasher is upstairs at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, sipping a Heineken in Cursive's crowded post-show dressing room, reeling in a state of disappointment. His friends from back home in Omaha are by his side. Just down the hall is Desaparecidos guitarist Denver Dalley, who's in town on a lark. Standing over Kasher as he sinks further down the wall is Saddle Creek owner Robb Nansel and Kasher's bandmate Ted Stevens, who has his ale wrapped up in a cheap gas station beer cozy. They're all looking on as Kasher swigs his beer, and begins sullenly shaking his head.

Oh, and if all of this didn't sound dramatic enough, Kasher is also bleeding - or rather he was bleeding, after ending Cursive's set at the Troubadour by violently striking his guitar. The massive disappointment splashed across Kasher's face has to do with the staining of his favorite shirt. It's quite funny, really. See, there's a rather memorable lyric on the new Cursive record, The Ugly Organ, about finding blood on yourself after recording your album. (Something to the effect of "This is my body/This is the blood I found.") I guess dude wasn't fucking around: there's bits of dried blood all over Kasher's chest, streaming down his right-hand side, where a trail of it has dripped along his shirt's tail

It may be new tonight, but that trail of blood runs all the way back to the early-'90s, when Kasher was just another bored teen strumming his pain away in small-town Omaha. And that disappointed look on Kasher's face - it's nothing new either. In the eight years that Kasher has fronted Cursive, he's lived through a divorce, a collapsed lung, a few mini-meltdowns, two relocations, and enough shity DIY van tours to last him several lifetimes. To surely no one's surprise, if there's anything Kasher excels at, it's writing songs of disappointment and doubt. He's dedicated albums to the subject - fine tuning the art of "picking at myself," as he once put it to me - and slowly plugging away beneath most indie fans' radar.

But all of that seems fit to change with the release of The Ugly Organ - by far one of the most stunning pieces of Kasher's musical arsenal, not to mention one of the best albums you'll hear all year. It's an album about growing up too soon, bandaging your scars and making amends with your art. There's a song on it called "Art Is Hard", and even though Kasher screams most of it with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek (sample lyric: "Fall in love to fail/To boost your CD sales"), it's challenging and thought-provoking all the same. The Ugly Organ is the sort of album that makes you think as much as it makes you feel - but, perhaps more importantly, it's an album that you couldn't ignore if you tried.

"It's set to be a big release for us," says Saddle Creek's Nansel. "I think the timing is right for it to be a big, big record - which, at this point, is probably overdue."

"We're all really happy with this record," Kasher says in agreement. "I feel like it was such an advancement. The record is something we all believe in. I feel like, with every album, we're trying to develop ourselves into what it is that we want to be. With every album, I think we've done that a little bit better."

Though conceived way back in 1995, the current Cursive line-up - bassist Matt Maginn, drummer Clint Schnase, cellist Gretta Cohn and guitarist Ted Stevens - has only really come together over the past few years. Though many point to the addition of Cohn's cello, the band's artistic about-face can be best connected to Kasher's 1999 divorce, which followed a miserable move to Portland.

"When I got out to Portland my marriage began falling apart," Kasher admits rather sheepishly. "The moment I got out there I think it became about trying to keep it together." Though at times in my conversations with Kasher I'll pry, there's really no need to probe him too much about this - all it takes is one listen to the last Cursive full length, 2000's Domestica, to understand all of the loss and confusion of that time. Domestica may be one of the most crushing indie rock break-up albums ever - made eerily more vivid in that it sounds like a new beginning.

Which is exactly what it was. Suddenly single, Kasher found himself back in Omaha, and churning out Cursive records with newfound purpose. He was still writing songs in the key of rock, but they somehow sounded older, wiser, and more articulate than your average teenage boy pining over that girl he should've Imed his poetry to. Hardly your typical emo demigod, Kasher had stumbled upon something else entirely: loud rock songs for children of all ages.

"There's so much discrimination against louder music," Kasher says. "I don't listen to much hard music, either, but I think there are emotions that people aren't hearing in their CD players, and I think anger or really loud sorrow may be among them. All of us have that inside. I'd be happy if people would look at us and say, 'I listen to this loud band Cursive - but it's really good.'"

I guess I hope for the same thing. When I'm around Kasher, I get the feeling he doesn't realize how good he actually is. Kasher is good - one of the most underrated and talented songwriters that I know - but he's also the kind of guy who will always find the cloud in the silver lining. Sometimes he'll find it in a stained shirt; other times he'll find it in the best record of his career.

"I've been accused of not wanting to do something once I know I can do it well," he says with a laugh. "I guess I'm 'happier' with The Ugly Organ, but I also feel like we're still getting there. It may be one of those standard cliches where you never do get there, where there's always something more that you could do. But, you know, I've always felt that way - I've always wanted to push things further."
The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

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