Review Summary: A collage of sound, a tale of hope
Being a music lover, new sounds intrigue me. When I hear a specific instrument doing something I've never heard before, it excites me. When a vocalist laments in with a certain inflection, it puts me in a state. Hearing something completely unexpected is what I long for when I listen. I'm constantly searching for new and fresh sounds, textures, riffs, or what-have-you in my musical choices.
Cursive caught my attention quickly. Something within the mix spoke to me. Perhaps Tim Kasher's wordplay and guitar work enhanced my listening experience. The unusual inclusion of a cello and horn sections could have drawn on my emotions. Maybe it was the overall sound of the band, one that could be catchy, gentle, and furious all in the same breath. I'm inclined to agree with the sentiment that my listening experience was rewarding because of all of these aspects, both individually and collectively.
These elements are brought together in near-perfection with their 2003 record The Ugly Organ
. Through these 12 tracks, I have heard musical passages unlike any other I have experienced. The band, led by Kasher, weave intricate guitar and bass lines through the deep, mellow voicings of cello, whilst drums snap between fury and beauty. All are serenaded by Kasher's tale of "The Ugly Organist" and his vignettes, dealing with death, sex, love, heartbreak, and everything in between.
A palette cleanser of sorts is the opening intro, The Ugly Organist
. The sounds of a carnival slowly filter into the listener's ears, as do the ominous sounds of an organ amid the din. A brief vocal sample can be heard, proclaiming the album's title with an air of glory. At once, seamlessly blended with the first track, burst Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand
with a groovy fury. Tom-tom rhythms pound about mad cello strikes and the pouring-out of a guitar waltz. The beat begins to jive as the album's first proper vocal passage begins, Tim's voice perfect for the ensemble. A brief slowdown brings the intro about once again. A simply beautiful portion features Tim espousing his soul to the listener, the music getting increasingly more agitated to enhance the feeling. As it began, the song ends quite quickly, leaving organs in its wake.
The next offering, Art is Hard
begins as a gentle, chord-driven little ditty, backed up by some snazzy cymbal splashes and bass drum. It quickly escalates to an overdriven lament on what appears to be the state of modern music. Tim's lyrics speak of a frustration, primarily focused upon the trend of emo music in general, with such lines as "Cut it out/your self-inflicted pain/is getting too routine/the crowds are catching on/to the self-inflicted song"
. The instruments lock in together, with a small reprieve of the intro present as a pre-chorus. The cello goes high and the guitars go low for a driving chorus, angrier still. The second verse chimes in with similar power and presence, featuring a softer bridge section, with the cello gaining more prominence until it battles with a soloing guitar. This battle births the second chorus, complete with horns that only add the already frantic nature of the song. Leaving nothing behind, the song ends with such optimistic finality, quite the opposite of its very nature.
In a complete 360-degree reversal, The Recluse
reveals a soft, gentle nature to Cursive, with a hypnotic intro of guitar tandem that features a strong backbeat. Soft-spoken verses lull the listener with sleigh bells and the lamentations of a tortured soul. After a repeat of the intro, a slightly more angst-y verse portion rears its head. It still retains that gentle quality through the use of the sleigh bells, however, providing an interesting duality right before the listener's ears. Out of nowhere, a duet between Kasher and guest Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley
bolsters the song to a new height of absolute beauty, that hypnotic guitar line reappearing to cement the mood in the listener's psyche. Drums and vocals alone for a moment, then the introduction with added vocal interjections, ending on a final cry from the bass.
From here, the textures of the album vary considerably. A Gentleman Caller
is a creepy, menacing ride, featuring the album's angriest lyrics. The guitars squeal and cry, wronged by a lover, while the drums gain schizophrenia in moments of bliss and pain at once. The song slows considerably, mournful cello furthering Kasher's sentiment that "the worst is over."
Another attack on modern music is packaged with the song Butcher the Song
. The cello and guitars lock in as one, delivering a sonic slap in the face to all those whose lyrics focus on failing relationships. One of the more angry songs on the album, this one is most unassuming, until notice is taken. The short but oh-so-sweet Bloody Murderer
is beautiful and terrifying as hell. An epic chorus of cello and guitar sharing a dance blend perfectly with Tim’s powerful vocals. Nothing more can be said, this song is pure genius.
A presence of groove is found on the introduction to the track Driftwood: A Fairy Tale
, a retelling of the story of Pinocchio, and dually The Ugly Organist. Guitars sound more like woodwinds in the verse, being overpowered by the cello and, incidentally, organ. The drum fills swim around the listener, while Tim's vocals are heartbreaking as he considers his very being and existence through this fairytale character. Creepy ambience takes over during the second half of the track, with a monologue barely heard beneath the static of white noise and random piano, finishing off the song.
The final two tracks cement the sound and story of The Ugly Organist. Sierra
begins with cello strums and creeping snare, complete with muted guitar. Everything builds to a wonderful chorus, the story of the Organist's beloved daughter. The emotion that seeps from this track is just glorious, very heartfelt. The chorus cries as does the cello, and we're driven to a bridge that's a bit faster. A stronger chorus is built from the last, and the drive just increases with every passing moment. Only drums and sustained chords remain as Kasher's most impassioned laments bring the song to a close.
Brining the album to a close is the 10-minute Staying Alive
. Effect-laden guitar lines blend the song into existence. The mellow speaking of another guitar, with the fade in of the drums, builds upon it. A symphony is being built here. The cello strikes the beat in proper and we are off. Tim's vocals are quiet, as to not disturb the listener's mood, created by the instrumentation. Delay-ridden chords and splashy symbols bring about the sudden sunrise of a chorus, brilliant and bright with its own radiant glory. Every member shines here, with the pounding snare and unrelenting guitar set forth upon the listener. A glorious movement is beheld, as the momentum picks up even more steam, shifting and blending and driving forwards, backwards, to the left and the right all at once. A glitter of hope, optimism, of perseverance is heard through the din, as a choir proclaim that 'the worst is over.' Among all of life’s endeavors, there will always be those hardships, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because the worst will be over; a glorious day will it be when it is. Only the choir remain, slowly fading out among the soft purr of synth. Gentle washes of sound replace human voice as the track echoes on, that glint of hope alive in the listener's heart. Nearing the very end, the choir can be briefly heard, before sudden oblivion sets in.
[i]The Ugly Organ[/b] is a journey, through life, love, hate, and hope. The music is the perfect narrator. The guitars, bass, cello, synth, and the vocals harmonize perfectly to tell the tale, storytellers of the highest degree. There is truly not a bad song on here, although the sound is one that takes some getting used to. When you do, however, it is a sound that you'll embrace wholeheartedly.
Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand, Bloody Murderer, Staying Alive, The Recluse
The musicality and instrumentation blend for a glorious sound
There is true passion here
The sound is a bit much at first, but is easy to get used to.