- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

Cursive

Happy Hollow

Saddle Creek Records

Cursive, a band whose name references an early signpost on the long road to maturity, has always been animated by the anguish of young lives on the precipice of adulthood. From the decaying relationship of a young couple on the band’s third album, “Domestica,” to the struggling musicians of the band’s last record, “The Ugly Organ,” the fiery Omaha, Neb., rock band has treated each of its recent albums as a single, tightly focused story about the unstable lives of the young and modern. Now, with the release of “Happy Hollow,” the band has expanded its outlook to map the emotional topography of a small, Midwestern town that is a hotbed of political and social tensions.

Cursive has long been associated with the angst-ridden punk sub-genre known as emo. Certainly, the band’s combination of aggression and emotional vulnerability, along with its focus on middle-class relationship struggles, would seem to mark it as yet another group of whining suburban rockers.

But frontman Tim Kasher has never been content merely to traffic in the cliches of catchy choruses and generic longing. Driven by an urge for musical experimentation, Mr. Kasher has led his band beyond the comfortable confines of its chosen genre with his rich narratives and tragic characters.

The band’s wall of sound approach is effectively blunt when it comes to stomping out riffs, but their brute force is never so powerful as to overwhelm the quieter, more introspective moments.

Like the music, the story is both intense and varied, a complex, multivocal survey of the strained relations among the residents of a small American town. Each song is sung from the perspective of a different character — a young man seething with anger at the town’s religious conviction, a priest saddened by all he cannot fix in his community, a hopeful actress who allows herself to be exploited in hopes of getting work. Mr. Kasher’s respect for each of his characters is clear. He allows all of them — with all their insecurities and imperfections — to be sympathetic.

On “Happy Hollow,” Cursive, once again working with producer Mike Mogis, has beefed up its edgy sound with a trumpet and saxophone, incorporating elements of big band and avant jazz into their furious post-punk riffing. Throughout the album, the horns add a brassy top layer to the distorted churn of the guitars. Like the middle-American tensions and anxieties portrayed in the lyrics, it’s a swirling, sometimes violent collision of sounds and styles.

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