Cursive | Mama, I’m Swollen (Saddle Creek)

cd_cursive.jpgI’m willing to forgive and forget—as long as Kasher remembers why we fell in love with him in the first place.







I’ll repeat what I said in my SXSW preview of Cursive’s show: I’m an old-school Cursive fan. Tim Kasher and Co.’s early releases were dark, driving and sometimes depressive. And then something magical happened: Cursive added cellist Greta Cohn and released the brilliant, near perfect The Ugly Organ. The live shows were still well-received train wrecks, with Kasher unpredictable (and often drunk), but the music was so good, nobody cared. And then Cohn left the band, taking with her, it seemed, Cursive’s black heart. The band’s follow up, Happy Hollow, left something to be desired; however, with this year’s new release, I’m willing to forgive and forget—as long as Kasher remembers why we fell in love with him in the first place.

What he’s given us is his latest Saddle Creek release, Mama, I’m Swollen. Despite the odd and off-putting title, the disc does, at first, provide a return to form. Musically, many of the songs are closer to The Ugly Organ than Domestica, minus the cello, of course. Still, they’re often introspective and driving, something Happy Hollow was not. (On that disc, Kasher looked outside of himself lyrically, instead focusing on a mythical place and its mythical inhabitants; it didn’t work.)

We welcome Tim Kasher back with Mama‘s opening track, "In the Now." It’s a mash-up of sounds which finds Kasher proclaiming, "Don’t want to live in the now/ don’t want to know what I know"—repeatedly, and with feeling. There it is, that familiar voice—rich, full-throated and angst-filled; we didn’t realize how much we had missed it. Next up, "From the Hips" is a slower track, more reminiscent of Organ than its predecessor. "I’m at my best when I’m at my worst," offers Kasher, a line which could very aptly be applied to his lyrics vs. his state of mind. Is it wrong to want disharmony and heartbreak for the man?

"I Couldn’t Love You" builds into a hard-driving crescendo and back down again, finding Kasher raising his voice, grabbing our attention. "Donkeys" kicks off with a mishmash of gentle sounds, nearly recalling a child’s toy. "Isn’t it time you act your age?/ you’ve got a mortgage on your shoulders, a baby on the way," sings Kasher; you’ve got to wonder if (or hope?) he’s talking to himself. At times, both Kasher’s voice and the instruments behind it rise up, commanding attention. "Caveman" is a rollicking song; with its trumpets and strings, it, too, could have slipped unnoticed into The Ugly Organ‘s roster.

Following the quietly meandering sixth song, "We’re Going to Hell," is the near-title track, "Mama, I’m Satan" (much more appealing, don’t you think?), embracing more of a pop structure than the breakdowns and swells of usual Cursive stuff. "Let Me Up" has an experimental beginning, which gives way to slow-building instrumentation and Kasher’s controlled vocals. Next up, the real title track gives us more of the same: the slower-paced offerings the album seems to have settled into. At this point, I wonder where the variety went, the passion; I want more teeth from Kasher; I know he’s capable of it. Though it eventually bares its teeth, disc closer "What Have I Done?" doesn’t quite fulfill my yearning. Oh Cursive, Cursive: I had such hope for this release. You had me, you really did—and then you dropped me. Still, I’m left with six solid songs and hope for the future, and that’s something. B- | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Shudder to Think, The Good Life, Murder by Death,

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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