Review: Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen

cursive-coverI don’t know if I am ever going review an album with such high expectations going in as I had for this one. While I really enjoy Domestica, I first got into Cursive after the release of The Ugly Organ, which I would say is one of my favorite albums of all time. I love the cinematic way the album put together. It is filled with motifs and imagery both lyrically and musically and makes for an extremely interesting dissection. So before Cursive released Happy Hollow I had openly admitted that there was little chance of the band even coming close to the greatness they had achieved in 2003. Especially since one of the cornerstones of The Ugly Organ, the cello, was rumored to have been replaced by a horn line. So when Happy Hollow did come out and not only met my admittedly low expectations but blew them out of the water by creating a work that rivaled its predecessor I was floored. Happy Hollow shortly worked its way into my desert island top five. Never before had I heard and perhaps never again will I hear an album so ambitious in scope. For those that don’t know, Happy Hollow is a concept album that is the story of a town called Happy Hollow (duh), and each song is from the perspective of a different member of this small rural community. The album is largely focused on the effects of religion of each of these people and is framed in such a way as to question religion itself as a worldview. Not only did they decide to write an album with a concept as heavy as religion, but also they pulled it off! Musically, lyrically and conceptually, Happy Hollow was damn near perfection. The only aspect that The Ugly Organ still had an edge was that the musical motifs were not nearly as prevalent on Happy Hollow, but that’s more of an observation than a real complaint. Whew! It feels good to finally write down all that Cursive love, however, its time that I get to the album at hand. Mama, I’m Swollen, is possibly among the worst album titles I can think of.

Aside from Happy Hollow, Cursive’s concept albums have largely been loosely tied songs onto an underlying theme. Mama, I’m Swollen, as far as I can tell is not a concept album, but like I said, with Cursive sometimes the concept isn’t readily apparent. While it seems like much of the album deals with the fact that Tim Kasher is indeed getting older, I would hardly call that a concept. My first impression of this album was that the songs were generally more musically subtle than on Happy Hollow, which had a more energetic delivery. By that I mean that the horn section on Happy Hollow was very much in the foreground of most songs, whereas on this latest album the additional instrumentation (i.e. horns, flutes, pianos, organs, strings) is not the focus of the song but rather a garnish for the songs as a whole. As usual the guitar work on this album is up to the typical Cursive standard of being intricate and interesting. Another impression that became apparent rather quickly is that this album feels short. With ten tracks and coming in at just over 40 minutes, the album definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome. While I think that the songs on this album are all quite good, I do take some issue with the track order, it seems to me that this album is pretty front loaded barring the amazing ending track ‘What Have I Done?’. This effect is exacerbated by the fact that the track times trend upward throughout the entire album. The average song is over 1 min 20 secs longer on the second half of the album compared to the first (yes, I did do the calculation). Sure, I may be getting nit picky but the truth is that you can feel the pace change and it would be nice if it hadn’t been so noticeable.

Getting on to the tracks themselves, I had heard a live version of the song ‘From the Hips’ on an episode of Sound Opinions (the excellent music podcast) and found myself becoming greatly concerned about this upcoming album. I am glad to report that my concerns were unfounded. This song must have evolved a bit when they were in the studio and benefited from the production. Perhaps one of the most interesting songs musically is the track ‘Donkeys’, which utilizes a creepy little bell loop and some of Cursive’s patented dissonant guitar arpeggios. I have considered Tim Kasher to be one of the most expressive vocalists in music today, but on ‘What Have I Done?’, we see Tim at a whole new level of heartfelt emotional songwriting and performance.

The Bottom Line: This album is not the conceptual wonder of its predecessors, however, it still features terrific songwriting, great production, and more than enough hooks to keep you interested for its 40 min runtime. It’s definitely worth a listen, despite its questionable name.

-Ben

Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen: 8.8 out of 10.0

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~ by mediametric on March 25, 2009.

One Response to “Review: Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen”

  1. I would have to agree with you on most of what you wrote here, though I wasn’t quite as blown away by Happy Hallow as you were. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but I’m not sure it will ever exceed my appreciation for the Ugly Organ. Also, I kind of enjoyed the front-loadedness of this record because it got me interested as soon as I bought it in the first 4 tracks, then as that foundation was built, I was ready to listen to the slower songs that followed. If they had speckled in the attention grabbers throughout the album, I think I may have missed them initially and fear I may never had gotten to them and wrote the album up as a dud. Good review my friend.

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