I knew I still had the mentality of a 12-year-old boy when I snickered at the title of Cursive’s newest album. "Heh heh, I bet a lot of them emo broads want to sneak a peek at Tim Kasher’s ugly organ," I cracked while giving myself a mental high-five. Yes, indeed. I am officially a pre-teen boy.
Wait one second, Mr. Jackson. Put down the lube and let me get through this review unscathed. It’s not you stalking the grounds of your backyard carnival that’s causing my wariness this time. It’s Omaha’s Cursive that has meandered into the carnival, and they’re delivering some high-concept circus melodrama with The Ugly Organ, their latest LP on Saddle Creek.
The score should be pretty familiar by now. Cursive is a pretty prolific band that struck gold a few years back with their venomous "concept" record, 2000’s Domestica. On that record, Tim Kasher and the gang delivered some of the most intense and believable anguish ever put to recorded music. It was that believability that salvaged Cursive from the emo-core dung heap most skeptics would try to lump them into. They followed that up with the not-as-good EP, Burst and Bloom, where the band found themselves in familiar territory. But for whatever reason, the believability was gone. The only thing that really made Burst and Bloom interesting was the musical debut of Gretta Cohn on cello. Cohn, a redhead who can shread the cello, makes all Weezer fans proud. And yeah, I’m Jell-O, baby.
If there was ever a record to shed the uncomfortable labels placed upon them by everyone under the sun, it would be The Ugly Organ. The album kicks off with the kind of creepy circus music that has become synonymous with "musical depature." While not offensive, it has become somewhat cliche at this point. The next thing you’ll notice is that Tim Kasher has traded in his infamous scratchy milk-curdling yell for a more polished approach, similar to the voice he affects for his other band, the Good Life. The music itself is subtler in its attack, turning down the guitars a little and giving Cohn room to mess you up with her cello awesomeness.
"Butcher the Song" and "A Gentlemen Caller" recall the glory days of Domestica and Tim Kasher’s acid-spit confessionals, which are few and far between on The Ugly Organ. Cursive has grown up, and I’m not sure I’ve grown up with them.
But is it good? Yeah, it’s okay. It’s just different, y’know. Is it their best record? Well, if you liked Burst and Bloom, then this way up your alley. Cursive is perfecting the formula they first executed on that release. Still, it’s no Domestica.