Last updated: 05/06/2011 12:00:00 PM
With its combination of dynamic instrumentation, diverse and accomplished songwriting and lyrical catharsis, The Ugly Organ (released March 4, 2003 on Saddle Creek) stands as one of Cursive’s most commanding performance to date.
Forging a unique territory somewhere between “concept album”--not a derisive term to Cursive founder Tim Kasher: “I don’t see why any group of songs wouldn’t form a cohesive whole as a ‘concept album.’ Why should an album be any different from, say, a collection of short stories?”--and tongue in cheek conceptual satire, The Ugly Organ is a singular work: an operetta of sexual and emotional confusion and conflict set to a musical backdrop that mirrors and expresses the entire range of emotions involved. By turns wildly dissonant (“Some Red Handed Slight of Hand,” “A Gentleman Caller”) and beautifully restrained (“Driftwood: A Fairy Tale,” “The Recluse”), the organ, guitar and cello lines, thundering rhythms and disjointed guitars mesh in a symbiotic relationship with Kasher’s narrative—replete with recurring themes and a resolution that ultimately leaves the players and listeners both sated and spent.
The Ugly Organ achieves and exceeds the promise of Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek, 2001), the five-song EP that highlighted the trademark Cursive intensity. Burst and Bloom also marked the introduction of Cursive's new member, Gretta Cohn (who has since left the band in August of 2005). Gretta’s cello skills and sense of melody was a complement to the frenetic intensity at the core of the band’s sound. Tim Kasher’s writing continued in an increasingly introspective and self-aware vein, often to the point of self-deprecation. “Sink To The Beat” half-satirically ponders the EP as a “marketing scheme… building awareness for the next LP” and references “a good fan base,” “integrity” and “a DC sound,” before proclaiming “This is the latest from Saddle Creek!” Likewise Ted Stevens’ songwriting and vocal presence intensified alongside Matt Maginn and Clint Schnase's peerless rhythm section.
The year following the release of Burst and Bloom saw worldwide touring as well as a split CD, 8 Teeth To Eat You (Better Looking Records), with Japan’s Eastern Youth, which was supposed to be followed by another tour of the US and the band’s first trip to Japan. Three days into the US portion of the tour Tim suffered a collapsed lung and spent the next two weeks in a hospital bed in Utah. One major surgery and a couple of months of recovery time later, Tim was back in the studio to record The Ugly Organ. Metaphorical and rife with self-reference and examination, Tim's confessional lyrical style weaves storybook sensibility around his inventive narrative. This could possibly owe largely to the relative isolation of his illness and recuperation period, but whatever the case, The Ugly Organ found Cursive reaching yet another peak.
Cursive formed in Omaha in 1995 when Tim Kasher, Matt Maginn and Steve Pedersen, who had been playing together for years in other bands, asked Clint Schnase to join them on drums. They released their first four songs on a 7” entitled The Disruption (Saddle Creek), then spent the following year preparing their debut album, Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes (Crank!, 1997), while also releasing a second 7”, Sucker and Dry (Zero Hour).
Such Blinding Stars…, with its intense and exemplary songwriting, quickly justified the hype surrounding each and every Crank! Release at that time. Cursive complemented the record with extensive touring and two more vinyl releases: The Icebreaker 7” (Saddle Creek) and a split 10” with Austin, TX’s Silver Scooter (Crank!) for the now legendary Crank! Records Split 10” Series.
The following year was spent touring and working on songs for what would become Cursive’s sophomore full-length, The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song (Saddle Creek, 1998). Shortly after the songs were recorded and before the album was released, Steve was accepted to law school and found himself in North Carolina. Tim decided that this was his opportunity to work on new projects and simultaneously moved to Portland. Cursive was disbanded on the brink of releasing their second full-length release.
About a year went by before Tim re-evaluated his move, returning to Omaha in hopes of resurrecting Cursive full-time. Longtime friend Ted Stevens (Lullaby for the Working Class, Mayday) was recruited to replace Steve Pedersen on additional guitar and vocal duties. With new life injected into the band, Cursive buckled down and recorded nine songs for their third full-length release Cursive’s Domestica (Saddle Creek, 2000). With the addition of Ted on guitar and vocals, and backed by one of the tightest rhythm sections in indie-rock, Cursive was better than ever... and made one killer record to prove it. With its elevated sense of texture and dynamics and vivid chronicling of relationships and breakups, the band had finally lived up to its potential and Domestica was its most well received record to date. The newly reborn Cursive hit the road with a vengeance. Over the next year they would share the stage with such like-minded bands as Dismemberment Plan, At the Drive-In, Murder City Devils, The Faint, and Planes Mistaken for Stars.
And the rest is more or less history… Having now found a unique balance of beauty and chaos in the most dynamic instrumentation of Cursive's history, The Ugly Organ stands as the band's most commanding performance. Somewhere between a calmly calculated conceptual album and a tongue in cheek conceptual satire, the band delivers a fearsome and lavish diatribe. Wild dissonant organ playing, beautiful cello lines, thundering rhythms and disjointed and melodic guitar lines align together in a symbiotic relationship between the instruments. The result is some of the loudest yet smoothest, most melodic moments we have yet to hear from the band.
“The worst is over…”
Thanks to DanzigFiend@hotmail.com for submitting the biography.