Cursive's Domestica

Author: Michael Houghton
6/19/2000 | Section M | Album Review
There are certain bands, certain albums, that are tied as strongly to periods of my life as the smell of ivy and mildewed concrete is to the memories of the stairs that climb up from my grandparents' garage to the warmth of their kitchen. Play the firs few bars of Morrissey's Viva hate of the Violent Femmes' Debut, and I'm instantly seventeen again, recently dumped by the girl i lost my virginity with, vaguely suicidal, and pissed off at the popular kids. Play August and Everything After by Counting Crows, and I'm at the end of 1993, mourning the “love of my life" mvoing to New York and shambling about my house, feeling like I have a stomach full of warm mud.
For some f*cked up reason, it has been the sad songs that have crawled into my psyche and become part of me on a nearly religious level. It sounds cliche, sure, but there really have been albums that I felt at the time had saved my life--for all I know they did. Sitting in my dedroom and wallowing in my misery like the proto-Emo boy that I was, these songs gave me some connection to another person--a person who sounded like they needed to feel that connection as much as I did. They reminded me that I wasn't the only one who had ever felt utter hopelessness. It was almost like having someone who understood how much it hurt, more than my closest friends ever could. Sometimes cliches are really just part of the universal human experience.
Cursive's Domestica is just such an album, but all grown up. A concept album, it follows the story of “Pretty Baby" and “Sweetie (Worker Bee)" from marriage to incredibly messy, adultery-laden, hope-souring divorce. The intelligent, poetic lyrics tie the songs of the album to each other like a Rock Opera with repeated lines like “don't call me pretty baby anymore." God, that one kills me every time.
But unlike most of the albums that I spent my youth wallowing in, this one doesn't come across as sad or moping or shoe-gazing. It's angry. Really angry. Tim Kasher's voice literally sounds physically painful coming out of him sometimes, like a broken-leg-howl. But it's angry in a cleansing way, getting it out of your system, unflinchingly cutting to the core of both sides' mistakes and inadequacies, letting it go, dousing-the-wound-with-alcohol-so-it-can-start-to-heal-sort-of-angry.
“Oh Doctor, doctor can't you fix me, can't you fix me? / Oh pretty baby you're so naive / But it comes out so cute / We all want to fix you..."
You could call Cursive an Emo band, but you would be way off-base, and I might kick you. You could call them Indie Rock, or Brit-Pop, or Hardcore, Scream-o, Math-Rock, or even Post-Hardcore, and you'd oly be touching a fragment of their whole sound, like the three blind Chinamen touching the elephant: “stump / leaf / snake." I keep trying to describe Cursive to my friends, and all I can do is list off all the things of which they are made up--their incredible range of dynamics--which fails miserably to describe the whole.
I sort of figure that if I'm running around babbling idiotically to everyone I know about how they must listen to an album because it's the “best album ever recorded," perhaps I should make that bold statement in print. Okay, so maybe “best album ever" is a bit strong, but I think at the heart of any real music critic, you will find someone who truly loves music, lives for music, and no matter how cynical they affect, can still transform into the retarded fan-boy when nobody is looking. this album has made me throroughly retarded.
The connection between Cursive and The White Octave is really much less esoteric than “sound" or “record label" or even “theme": Steve Pedersen was Cursive's original guitarist when they formed in 1995. He left for law school when Cursive disbanded in 1998 (and Cursive's lead singer Tim Kasher entered his ill-fated marriage). Steve formed White Octave. After his divorce, Tim re-formed Cursive with a new guitarist, and wrote Domestica.
The White Octave rightfully shares a little of Cursive's sound; they too are of the Indie/Post-Hardcore impossible-to-categorize non-genre. But thought they are sometimes jangly and always melodic, and about half of the album is kinda Emo (which I was less fond of), the other half of the album is strongly fixed in the zone of crunchy guitar, high pitched cries wrenched from a neck taut with all the veins standing out, and a shout-along feel that somehow manages to be anthemic without being Punk or Metal. I actually would have preferred they stay Hardcore-ish throughout, because they make that sound much more their own, and those are the catchier and better written songs.
Ultimately though, as much as I've driven myself crazy in this review trying to avoid it, I pretty much have to compare the two albums: The White Octave's album is really good on it's own merits, no bull-sh*t. But Cursive's album is (and I don't say this lightly) a masterpiece.
Cursive's Domestica

Cursive's Domestica

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