Review Summary: Don't wanna live in the now. Don't wanna know what I know.
Cursive have had a long and strange existence. Domestica
, while an important and influential indie album, did not portend great success for the band. Ugly and sometimes even unpleasant, full of sharp corners and shi
tty people, any catchiness present seemed more like a cruel joke, a jolt of false hope in a hopeless situation. Bands who write music like that don’t get popular. And that band didn’t, because their breakout success, The Ugly Organ
, sounded completely different from Domestica
. Happy Hollow
, in turn, sounded mostly different from The Ugly Organ
. And so on for 20 years, for an entire career.
Until now, that is. Vitriola
hearkens back to The Ugly Organ
days, bringing back not only the famous cello but all the original band members to boot. It’s not exactly the same, but there are definite parallels. The cello is an obvious one, but others are subtler. The vibe
is certainly similar, but most of all, that sneaking suspicion that I used to have while listening to Cursive has returned: I think that Tim Kasher is eternally waking up to the realization that no one gives a shi
t about him or his music. It doesn’t matter if the realization is true or not. This goes all the way back to “Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand”, “Art is Hard”, and above all, “What Have I Done?”. He has always written about writing, and he has always chastised himself for doing it, usually in the same song. But he was never just writing about the physical process of writing; he was writing about the effects of writing, of putting your words into the world and watching as they return – or more likely, don’t return – in a way that edifies and illuminates and justifies the time you spent doing it. In "Ouroboros", he is the snake eating its tail, finding out that at the end of the stick, there's just a single fu
rejects music as a positive force. The world, which Kasher once called a placenta in “Let Me Up”, is now a “turd” in need of polishing, an inherently repulsive object that can only be improved in a way that hides its true nature. “Pick up the pieces, give a fu
ck,” he sings, but the dour music underscores the defeat and desperation in his voice, and his phrasing recalls an earlier lyric: “There was a big bang once, we were left to fill in the blanks.” This album finds Kasher engaging with capitalism in a way not heard since “Dorothy at Forty”, but while that song pointed out the excesses of the stereotypical American dream, songs like “Under the Rainbow” lament the deletion of that dream from our lives. Maybe it was always futile, but at least it was something to work toward. Now, “the 1% lives in high rises, blocking out the sun,” and we are left with “no God, no gold, nowhere to go.” “Remorse”, with its dreamy piano, is the prettiest song on the album – maybe the only
one that could be called pretty – but even that one ends with what sounds like the piano strings being cut.
“There’s no future, only money. No me and you, only money.” All this shi
t adds up, and by the time “Noble Soldier/Dystopian Lament” rolls around to put the album out of its misery, our protagonist has given up. He sings of all the things he used to do and care about, all the things that just don’t matter anymore. All those stabbing guitar chords couldn’t poke enough holes into the ballooning despair that threatens to swallow the world. Vitriola
has the perfect name, suggesting a hate-spewing gramophone, grinding records into dust. There is no joyful anthem at the end, no “Staying Alive”. All this record can offer is solidarity to the hopeless and a dwindling expectation that the jagged teeth of the ugly organ won’t cut too deeply.
Oh, and some dubious advice: “Don’t lose your head. You can’t afford to lose that.”