Over the past two decades, Cursive has become known for writing smart, tightly woven concept albums where frontman Tim Kasher turns his unflinching gaze on specific, oftentimes challenging themes, and examines them with an incisively brutal honesty.
2000’s Domestica dealt with divorce; 2003’s The Ugly Organ tackled art, sex, and relationships; 2006’s Happy Hollow skewered organized religion; 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen grappled with the human condition and social morality; and 2012’s I Am Gemini explored the battle between good and evil. But the band’s remarkable eighth full-length, Vitriola, required a different approach — one less rigidly themed and more reactionary as the band struggles with existentialism veering towards nihilism and despair; the ways in which society, much like a writer, creates and destroys; and an oncoming dystopia that feels eerily near at hand.
Cursive has naturally developed a pattern of releasing new music every three years, creating records not out of obligation, but need, with the mindset that each record could potentially be their last. 2015 came and went, however, and the band remained silent for their longest period to date. But the members of Cursive have remained busy with solo records, a movie (the Kasher-penned and directed No Resolution), and running businesses (the band collectively owns and operates hometown Omaha’s mainstay bar/venue, O’Leaver’s).
The band even launched their own label, 15 Passenger, through which they’re steadily reissuing their remastered back catalogue, as well as new albums by Kasher, Campdogzz, and David Bazan and Sean Lane. And like many others, the band members have been caught up in the inescapable state of confusion and instability that plagues their home country, and seems to grow more chaotic with each passing day.
Which brings us to 2018 and Vitriola. For the first time since Happy Hollow, the album reunites Kasher, guitarist/singer Ted Stevens and bassist Matt Maginn with founding drummer Clint Schnase, as well as co-producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jenny Lewis) at ARC Studios in Omaha. They’re joined by Patrick Newbery on keys (who’s been a full-time member for years) and touring mainstay Megan Siebe on cello.
Schnase and Maginn are in rare form, picking up right where they left off with a rhythmic lockstep of viscera-vibrating bass and toms, providing a foundation for Kasher and Stevens’ intertwining guitars and Newbery and Siebe’s cinematic flourishes. The album runs the sonic gamut between rich, resonant melodicism, Hitchcockian anxiety, and explosive catharsis — and no Cursive album would be complete without scream-along melodies and lyrics that, upon reflection, make for unlikely anthems.
In late 2014, Meat Wave’s 24-year-old frontman Chris Sutter found himself facing the end of the relationship he had been in since he was 12 years old. “When you’re in something like that for so long, it doesn’t shield you from the world, but it softens your reality,” he explains. “A long relationship like that gives you confidence.” He likens the experience of being single for the first time in his adult life to being an Amish kid on Rumspringa. “I was just going nuts, making all the mistakes that you could make. It made for a really whack, fucked up time—very confused, always unsure—and that led to a bunch of shit,” Sutter laughs grimly.
In Rounds, the latest album from Chicago-based Campdogzz, is centered around driving rhythms, insistent dual guitars set in intriguing arrangements, and the haunting, evocative voice of Tulsa, OK-native Jess Price. Her melodies take on the shape of a storm making its way in — and out just as soon. There’s a feeling of electricity, of winds shifting, a magical mix of both comfort and unease.
The album was written partially in Chicago but mostly throughout the Southwest as Price and guitarist/vocalist Mike Russell traveled post-tour. Engulfed by desert, this starkness — like the mercurial storms of Price’s native Oklahoma — couldn’t help but seep into the songs. It was a period of collective change for the band as relationships began and ended, people moved and planted new roots. Everyone experienced some sort of massive life shift and the album serves as a reflection of that period, of growth and patience.