Friday, March 13, 2009

Cursive - 'Mama, I'm Swollen'

Cursive’s uneven new album Mama, I’m Swollen makes me think of two things: frontman Tim Kasher’s complete discography (no shit) and Michael Jordan (wait, what?). The discog comes into play in that Mama, I’m Swollen feels like its cobbled together from bits of other Kasher compositions. As for the Jordan comparison, I’m not sure if it reminds me of when Jordan dropped out of the NBA to play for the Birmingham Barons in a troubled bid to reclaim his childhood or when Jordan came out of basketball retirement a second time to play for the Washington Wizards and ended up embarrassing himself. Like the former, Mama, I’m Swollen sometimes feels like a bid for the searing angst of old days, but like the latter, I kind of wish Cursive had just gone away.

Mama, I’m Swollen opens with “In the Now,” a rock track with squealing guitars and thoroughly repetitive lyrics. It’s reminiscent of the needling, nervous energy of Domestica or The Ugly Organ. It’s a fantastic driving song, and since there’s only like eight words to it, it’s a great singing one too. But it’s an early sign that Kasher is still suffering from the writing fatigue that plagued Help Wanted Nights, the watered down last album from his other band The Good Life. Kasher’s albums have always had a somewhat literary quality; he writes great songs, sure, but they’ve always added up to form semi-cohesive stories. But Mama, I’m Swollen is the first time Kasher’s ever riddled his stories with so many clichés: “roll around the hay / roll around the sun,” “we’re going to hell,” “I couldn’t love you anymore,” “I’ve gotta snap out of this,” “You’re gonna be someone,” etc. They’re not the most obvious clichés out there, but they still fill up a lot of space, making this the first Cursive record that’s only interesting for its music. Or at least, it would be, if the record didn’t feel like a retread.

Mama, I’m Swollen’s opening tracks feel like Domestica throwbacks, while “Donkeys,” “Caveman,” and “We’re Going to Hell” mimic the shambling indie country rock of The Good Life circa Album of the Year. And that last third is… well, it’s kind of indistinct, really. There are some horns buried in the mix, so feel free to draw a loose Happy Hollow connection. But throughout this disjointed effort, the same thought pervades: “I could be listening to so many other, better Cursive/Good Life records.” Mama, I’m Swollen isn’t half-bad, but it’s certainly disappointing coming from a writer like Kasher. Right now, I think the best career move he could make would be to take a vacation. I know Cursive’s albums have been coming out three years apart, but given how busy Kasher is with touring and other musical ventures, he’s not really taking any breaks. Dude needs to follow his own advice on “Donkeys” and really go to Pleasure Island and chillax for a bit. Recharge his thesaurus, maybe try out some new chord progressions. His comeback could be like when Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls with a number 45 jersey.

And then… Space Jam!

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