Honestly, where to begin? Cursive (MySpace) has been knocking heads in the plains of middle American indie rock for well over a decade. Are they angry and aggressive? At times. Are they existentially cathartic, self aware and essentially free of the “successor'” complex present in their contemporaries? Most definitely.
Truth be told, I’ve been a steadfast supporter of front-man Tim Kasher’s drunken musings for the better part of my adult life. As a man well-versed in Cursive’s discography, I felt more than equipped to judge and dismantle their latest effort, Mama, I’m Swollen, if there was any dismantling to be had. Thankfully for all of us, Tim’s as steadfast and ardent as ever, churning out compulsive yet meticulous commentary on the big picture, our relationship as conscious beings to the big picture, and the irritation and anxiety of not knowing exactly when to stop asking questions that might not even have answers.
Cursive has long since thrown in the towel when it comes to genre definition or a presumed “Discord” sound, and though thought-heavy, Mama, I’m Swollen is only heavy-hitting when it needs to be. Songs such as “Donkeys” and “What Have I Done?” show a reserve that is generally donated to Kasher’s side project, The Good Life. Here, we see it working in Cursive’s benefit, with the topical matter of these songs containing a concentrated self-doubt that hangs quite naturally in some ethereal reverb. Even so, this is no one-trick pony. Cursive is a band with an arsenal of dynamics.
Tim Kasher has long been known for his intelligent, bitter and ironic self-examination. Writing songs about writing songs about lovers who don’t like having songs written about them is an old standby at this point. With his 30’s weighing on him, like most artists of integrity, the focus heads outward, and with Mama, we’re talking WAY outward. Space, self actualization and this frustrating ‘I think therefore I am’ bullshit keep an overly enlightened man from the simple pleasure of ‘simply being’, as he sings in the slightly eastern sounding title track. The notorious vexed lover has been pushed to the wayside in a frenzied search for meaning, or at least a way to escape the desire for a meaning.
All of these concepts and concerns come to a head in what I believe to be the best track on the album, “Let Me Up”. Initially sparse and twangy, it starts with Kasher describing a desperately gross scene of heat and mosquitoes, followed by exhaustive speculation on our origin, and concludes with the anthemic anti-prayer that gives the song its name. Kasher wails, “Let me up!” to whoever is or isn’t listening above. A creator who may or may not be there to listen.
As you would expect from one of the founding fathers of the Saddle-Creek persuasion, this is not a happy record. “Mama, I’m Swollen” is essentially here to show you a perspective you might come to after several Dostoyevsky novels, a few college philosphophy classes and a year of drinking whiskey alone at night. Not bad for a 40 minute record. Let the mental masochists rejoice!
Saddle Creek [CD, 2009]
1. In the Now
2. From the Hips
3. I Couldn’t Love You
6. We’re Going to Hell
7. Mama, I’m Satan
8. Let Me Up
9. Mama, I’m Swollen
10. What Have I Done