Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: Exadore / Jeff
03/24/2003 | | | Album Review
Tim Kasher may have just written an entire 40-minute album about his penis or he may not have. That's the nature of Kasher's latest beast, Cursive's new album The Ugly Organ. The organ at the center of the album's lyrical themes (and also manipulating the band's actions from the shadows) is ambiguously defined: the press sheet says it could be some type of musical instrument, Kasher's brain, his heart or his phallus. Rather than focus on the painfully-detailed decay of relationships, this time around Cursive is more interested in the actual business of writing songs: the motives, ideas and repercussions behind exposing all those private moments. By shifting away from personal topics Kasher may be getting even more personal. It presents the listener with no easy answers. Even the album's sound is broad, harsh and sometimes convoluted, a distinct right turn from the direction most people thought they would go after 2000's highly polished and critically acclaimed Domestica. The only problem with all this is that the exploration of various guitar textures, sounds and contrasts from Domestica are left behind. Emphasis is further drawn away from the guitars by the cello (which appeared on the last two excellent EPs) and the new additions of an organ and even horns on some tracks. So welcome to The Ugly Organ, it's not necessarily here to please you though you might end up liking it quite a bit.

After a brief intro track, the album really kicks off with "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand" (which I hope is not a slight of hand across his 'ugly organ'). It's possibly one of the most rock and roll opening tracks I've heard in quite some time. The song more or less defines the rest of the album: pounding drums, heavily distorted guitar riffs, complex cello lines and a wildly manic organ all swirl around with chaotic fury, somehow coalescing long enough to form a coherent song. There's even a fucking five-second cello breakdown! Unfortunately the damn thing lasts less than two minutes and as Brian said to me, "I thrash around and feel like breaking shit. Then it's suddenly over and all I'm left with is a trashed room and the feeling I've been used." Next up is "Art is Hard," (I hope his dick's name is not Art) the second most rocking song on the album and one of the lyrical centerpieces, "your self inflicted pain / is getting too routine / the crowds are catching on / to the self inflicted song fall in love to fail / to boost your CD sales." The chorus rides along on a swinging beat, complete with trombone rolls deep in the mix giving the whole song a deep bounce and twist to it.

Unfortunately most of the album's punch is used up in the first half. Although the end isn't bad at all, it lacks the power and focus of the beginning. The last three songs' choruses are just their title repeated. For most bands that's just fine but compared with the brilliance and creativity of the album's beginning it just comes off as weak. "Butcher the Song" takes the jagged guitar work a bit too far as the verse is mostly made up of an annoying, harsh and infinitely repeating start-stop riff. It's almost designed not to be likable. "Gentleman Caller" is equally unenjoyable, made up of the same jagged rhythms that just seem to repeat themselves. Fortunately the song is saved by it's last half, in which the anger of the beginning stops dead and leads into the most serene, quiet moment of the album. Supported by sad lyrics ("who told you love was fleeting / sometimes men can be so misleading / to take what they need from you the worst is over") and a little more than a slow cello and drums. "Staying Alive," is the longest song on the album by far (in addition to the irrevocable sin of sharing a name with a Bee Gee's song). Stretching on forever, it brings back the refrain from "Gentlemen Caller," only over feedback and echoes (ala Sonic Youth) which more or less bury the support of the beautiful cello line until the very end. It stretches the whole thing out for much longer than the length of the original song.

So there you have it, another remarkable album by Cursive. The Ugly Organ refuses to tread the ground that gained the band such acclaim, instead it journeys into unknown territory full of scathing self-criticism and disregard for fan's expectations. The album is epic in the amount of emotions and sounds it tackles (from despair, self-hatred, fear and anger to hope, wonder, sadness and desire) all the while remaining utterly raw and unpredictable. Despite a few missteps (or perhaps because of them), the band comes out stronger for their experimentation and exploration. The Ugly Organ, scars, warts and all, is much more desirable than a perfect, porcelain Domestica II. It's only March and we may already have our first contender for album of the year, which or may not be about a penis, with all the weird Freudian egotist problems that implies.

4.5 out of 5
The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

LP / CD / MP3