Often times in music “evolution” is a term thrown around very loosely. A band like Linkin’ Park or Limp Bizkit may consider an evolution in their sound, the adding of a string section in one song, or maybe a slight change in the melancholy riff based assault of such bands. In my opinion this is not “evolution”, as some rock critics like to refer to it as (Rolling Stone). Evolution is something gradual and extremely transforming to a band. An excellent example of my idea of evolution is the band Talk Talk who had a beginning as a modest new wave band and by the end of their career had became a full fledged jazz rock group. This definition of evolution is important to understand because with their 5th LP “Happy Hollow” Cursive has completely evolved from their early beginnings as a post hardcore band. “Happy Hollow” is a loose assembly of brass horns, political angst, and pure emotion. Lead vocalist Tim Kasher is still screaming but the highly personal material of “Domestica” and “The Ugly Organ” are no longer present and instead like fellow Saddle Creek group Bright Eyes Cursive’s latest release takes a political slant. With a change of focus lyrically also comes a change in the musical structure of Cursive. Doing away with most of their droning melancholy post hardcore sound Cursive have instead jumped head first into the realm of indie rock. While long standing Cursive fans may have a problem with this, in my opinion the “evolution” has come at the perfect time and once again proves Kasher and co. are miles ahead of their contemporary peers when considering the thought they put into their releases.
The first thing any revisiting Cursive fan will notice when listening to “Happy Hollow” is the loss of the band’s string section (in the form of recently departed Gretta Cohn) and its replacement with a horn section. While at first this may make an avid Cursive fan think “Why has my favorite band decide to go ska?” the horns are actually used much more tastefully than say a band like Less Than Jake may use them. Kasher has taken his ideas of stage based music, found on “The Ugly Organ” and gone full force into it. Cursive with “Happy Hollow” have basically created a post hardcore “musical” that is captured on record. The inclusion of horns greatly increases the stage like feel Kasher has attempted to get across lyrically in Cursive’s past two albums. Cursive experiments with a blend of genres on “Happy Hollow” stretching from post-hardcore, to electronica, to what can only be described as swing. “Bad Sects” one of the more experimental tracks on the album, blends together the softer sound of Kasher’s side project The Good Life with the more aggressive sound of Cursive. All in all, with “Happy Hollow” Cursive is attempting to break out of their shell as a band that just goes from loud to soft, and are creating songs that do not have such dynamically varied instrumentation as their previous endeavors. While Cursive’s old sound can still be found in remnants on “Happy Hollow” they are basically telling the world with this album that they are ready to move on from their modest start.
Going hand in hand with this musical idea, Kasher’s lyrics on “Happy Hollow” introduce us to a range of characters from sexually frustrated priests to sexual experienced little girls. Instead of using himself to paint out his feelings on various issues, Kasher has created a village of morally dysfunctional individuals who illustrate what Kasher morally feels is wrong with his nation’s current state. While he certainly isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said before, his way of saying it is like always extremely heartfelt as well as literally interesting. “Big Bang’s” attack on intelligent design supporters is creative and excellently laid out and is just one of the examples of the great lyrical prowess Cursive has and still shows on “Happy Hollow”
Musically the album isn’t exactly innovative but it is not boring either. With the lack of Gretta the band has decide to experiment with more attempts of showing the band’s individual strengths (“guitar solos” are featured on many tracks) instead of repeating the muddy and cluttered full band approach that was found on “The Ugly Organ”. While the band did add a horn section, like I said before this new element to Cursive’s sound is used subtly and excellently which can mainly be seen in the middle of the record. On tracks like “Dorothy Dreams of Tornados” various horns are used to accent the music rather than be lost in the shuffle of the driving guitar and bass. Basically, Cursive is still the band painting their songs only now they have a few extra colors in the form of horn instruments to help assist the band in their relentless drive.
With “Happy Hollow” Cursive has once again proved they are the most interesting band on Saddle Creek and one of the most versatile bands in the indie rock scene. Without falling trap to over experimentation (Trophy Scars’ “Alphabet. Alphabets.”) Cursive has with “Happy Hollow” successfully changed their sound extremely but still created an album which rivals their best. Unlike the “evolutions” of lesser bands, Cursive proves that they are a band that can successfully genre-hop with their music yet still retain their ability to make interesting and most of all, good music.