Cursive is one of my favorite bands. I was highly anticipating the release of their sixth LP, Happy Hollow. It had been over a year since their fifth release, The Difference Between Houses and Homes, a collection of b-sides, and over three years since the highly acclaimed The Ugly Organ. With all this time, I was sure Cursive would release their best album to date. Oh, how disappointment stings.
My first disappointment was the absence of Cursive's cellist, Greta Cohn, who departed from the band earlier this year. The cello had given the band's music such a haunting sound. The album still utilizes instruments, such as horns in the tracks "Retreat!" and "At Conception," but the loss gave this album an overall feeling of emptiness.
Tim Kasher, one of my all-time favorite frontmen for his raw, real, emotive voice, strayed from his powerful sound. Happy Hollow is not laden with the anguished yelling that Kasher is known for. His voice lacks emotion, which makes his words unconvincing.
Happy Hollow is a concept album. The album is divided into fourteen hymns for heathens, with the first track being a prelude and the last an overview of the album, listing the themes of each song, or "hymn." Cursive is known for themed albums, but this is different. Whereas in the past Kasher lamented over relationships in a figurative manner, this theme, Kasher's beef with organized religion, is explicit. His lyrics could not be more literal, which is odd for Cursive, and personally, annoying. This is my biggest problem with the album. I love Cursive for their poetic lyrics and feel as though they are pointing out the obvious in an issue that's already been beaten into the ground.
All in all, the album is not horrible, just different. When I want to listen to Cursive, Happy Hollow will not be the album I choose. But despite my disappointment, Cursive remains one of my favorite bands, so if you're a fan of Cursive I still recommend you give Happy Hollow a chance. However, if you are unfamiliar with their music, please don't let this be your first taste of Cursive.
After completing their tour in support of the 2003 release The Ugly Organ, Cursive went on what many fans feared to be an indefinite hiatus. During the break lead vocalist Tim Kasher and guitarist Ted Stevens took time to focus on their other projects, releasing The Good Life's Album of the Year and Mayday's Bushido Karaoke, well the rest of the band members helped out Conor Oberst and The Faint on the Digital Ash tour. Rumors of a break-up continued to circulate after the announcement of cellist Greta Cohn's departure earlier this year; but to the surprise of many the band soon after stated that they would be heading back to the studio to record Happy Hollow, a follow up to their most successful album to date. Wondering how they would compensate for the loss of such a vital instrument, anticipation and worry plagued many fans. The question of whether the release would share a similar sound to the dissonant circus of The Ugly Organ, or the melodic post-hardcore approach of Domestica, spread quickly across many message boards and chat rooms. Buzz continued with an early Internet leak, and the posting of the single " Dorothy at Forty" on the bands official website.
Happy Hollow, a disc named for a street running parallel to Saddle Creek Road in Omaha, Nebraska sees Cursive take a different approach to writing than any of their previous works. Within the first ten seconds of the opening track, " Hymnal/Babies," the band instantly discredits the hope of all who were secretly pleading for a musical regression. The song blares forward with minor chords and trumpet wails, only to lead into vocalist Kasher's signature howls. Musically this takes and builds from where The Ugly Organ left off: combining catchy rifts and a bizarre pop appeal, with a verbose sound of an orchestra gone wrong. The absence of the cello, however, becomes a point of contention for many. Producer Mike Mogis attempted to compensate for this with the use of additional percussion, synths, and horns, and in most cases it come across quite well. Though despite their best efforts, a level of raw emotion was added by the use the strings, and is notably absent on Happy Hollow. This gap is most prominent in the disc's slower track's "Bad Sects" and "Into the Fold."
From Cursive's beginning on they have lyrically been an intensely emotional band, seeing the majority of songs dwell on Kasher's introspective thoughts on relationships, his own music, and self-image. In this Happy Hollow sees it biggest progression. The album, which is arguably a concept surrounding five characters in a small town, amplifies an allegory on the current political state of America, specifically taking shots at the church and war. On the albums closer, "Hymns for the Heathen," the standout line " I wasted half my life on the thought that I'd live forever" serves as an exemplification for the whole tone of the record. The underlining impression is that Kasher is pissed off with bigotry and small mindedness of The Bible Belt. Unfortunately rather than solidifying his spot as one of the best lyrists of indie rock, Tim's work on Happy Hollow fails to make the same connection that was so well established on previous endeavors. His signature use of irony, double entendres, and allusions are still there but the subject matter lacks the same appeal.
With Happy Hollow Cursive refused to stay stagnant. They took a situation which many thought would be their end and released a record which shows growth both musically and in terms of content. For this I give them credit, but the emotional connection I once shared with this band has waned. Call me cynical, but I don't want to hear about opinions on Catholics, war, or homophobia. I want to hear about your personal demons, booze, and happened with your most recent ex.
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