Cursive performing at the 2007 Siren Music Festival
|Origin||Omaha, Nebraska, United States|
|Genres||Emo, indie rock, post-hardcore|
|Years active||1995–1998, 1999–present|
|Labels||Saddle Creek, Big Scary Monsters|
|Associated acts||Bright Eyes, Commander Venus, Lullaby for the Working Class, Mayday, Okkervil River, Slowdown Virginia, The Good Life, Tim Kasher|
|Past members||Clint Schnase
Cursive is an American indie rock band from Omaha, Nebraska, on Saddle Creek Records/Big Scary Monsters (UK). Described as emo-tinged post-hardcore, Cursive came to prominence with 2000's Domestica and found commercial and critical success with 2003's The Ugly Organ. The band has released seven studio albums, a compilations album, and a mix of singles and EPs since 1997.
Early years and breakup (1995–98)
Cursive formed in the spring of 1995, shortly after Slowdown Virginia broke up. Slowdown Virginia members Tim Kasher (lead vocals, guitar), Matt Maginn (bass), and Steve Pedersen (guitar) had parted ways, along with their drummer, a month prior. The three members decided that they were not ready to give up making music, and wanted to give music a serious try, with Kasher saying, "[we] decided with Cursive we would write the best we could, believe in it, and if everyone ended up hating it – well, we would deal with it." Clint Schnase, who played with Pedersen in a band called Smashmouth, joined as the drummer. Kasher has said that the band's name was inspired by a passage in a book by V. S. Naipaul, in which the British were forcing subjugated Indians to learn how to write English in cursive penmanship, symbolic of a pointless exercise with no value, and Kasher compares this to the band forcing music as a discipline, taking it seriously.
With an initial sound characterized by one reviewer as similar to At the Drive-In, in 1996 Cursive recorded and released The Disruption EP on Lumberjack Records, followed in 1997 by the Sucker and Dry EP on Zero Hour Records and their debut album, Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes, on Crank! Records. A follow up EP, The Icebreaker, was released in early 1998. The Katz brothers of Sputnik Music summarize Such Blinding Stars and Cursive's sound at the time as "11 distortion soaked, emotion ridden songs, comes off as a younger, worse, version of the band's breakthrough Domestica" while AllMusic's Peter D'Angelo said the album "lays down the framework for the Cursive method: delicate guitars that erupt into frenzied explosions, a rhythm section that consistently keeps each track barreling forward, and the harrowing vocal contributions of Tim Kasher."
In late spring of 1998, after a couple years of touring, Cursive announced that they were breaking up. The primary cause was Kasher's marriage and move with his wife to Portland, Oregon, though guitarist Pedersen was planning on also leaving the band and Omaha to attend law school in North Carolina. Cursive recorded The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song as a swan song in the spring of '98 before disbanding, and released the album post-breakup in the fall of that year on Saddle Creek Records. The Storms of Early Summer was Kasher and Cursive's first foray into writing and recording a concept album, with the first half of the album being themed "Man vs. Nature" and the second half "Man vs. Self". The album was noted for its intricate guitar work, deeply thoughtful lyrics, and the beginnings of a math-rock/pop song structure, all of which would develop more on further Cursive albums.
Reformation: Domestica and Burst and Bloom (1999–2002)
A little over a year later, in the summer of 1999, the band re-formed when Kasher got divorced and returned to Omaha. With Pedersen gone to law school, Ted Stevens (formerly of Lullaby for the Working Class) joined the band on guitar and vocals. Within a year Cursive recorded and released their third full-length album, Domestica, in 2000. A concept album about the dissolution of a marriage, Domestica gained Cursive critical success for the first time. While not a straightforward autobiographical account of his marriage, Kasher has acknowledged that it heavily influenced the album, though some of the relationship dynamics – such as infidelity – were not autobiographical. Reviewing Domestica, Pitchfork's Taylor Clark gave the album an 8.0/10.0, calling Tim Kasher's style as "the perfect inflection and expression from the far-from-perfect vocal chords, the brains evident behind the guitar brawn" and that the band's sound had evolved since The Storms of Early Summer, saying that Cursive "retained their razor edge, creating pulsing, rapidly evolving guitar-based music, yet they're now fueled and guided by the meaning behind the music".
Cursive added Gretta Cohn as a cellist in 2001, as Kasher felt the addition would help the band evolve its sound. They recorded and released 2001's Burst and Bloom EP on Saddle Creek Records, and split an album with Japanese band Eastern Youth in 2002 called 8 Teeth to Eat You on Better Looking Records. Burst and Bloom's lead-off track, "Sink to the Beat," is a lyrically meta-concept song about the process of recording the EP itself and the effect it has on the music and the listener. Cursive toured extensively throughout 2001 and 2002, to the point of exhaustion and Kasher suffering a collapsed lung. The band had to cancel the rest of the tour and returned to writing new material.
The Ugly Organ and hiatus (2003–05)
Cursive released The Ugly Organ, their fourth album, in 2003 on Saddle Creek Records to critical and commercial success. Music magazine Rolling Stone gave the album a 4-star rating, while alternative music magazine Alternative Press rated the album a perfect 5 out of 5. At the time of The Ugly Organ's tenth anniversary reissue in 2014, the album had sold over 170,000 records.
The Ugly Organ is a loose concept album about the ideas of what art and music are, how the song, singer, and audience all relate and influence each other, and the emotional effects of the songwriting process on the writer. Kasher stated in an interview with Alternative Press in 2014 that the songs he wrote were not written to be tight conceptually, and credits guitarist and sometimes-vocalist Ted Stevens with finding the theme to the album, saying, "Really, Ted [Stevens, guitar] had a large role in laying the songs out and considering what they all meant and how they related to each other and creating a higher concept from the artwork, of the theatrical layout." The addition of Cohn's cello to the music was noted by Adam Finley of Pop Matters as helping to give songs a "sense of epic scale" and "threatening edge," and that the songs overall sounded as though "all roads led through a haunted house of grotesque situations and twisted characters, each a reflection through a broken carnival mirror of Kasher converting pounds of flesh into something saleable."
After extensive touring to support The Ugly Organ in 2003 and early 2004, Kasher surprised fans and critics by announcing an indefinite hiatus for Cursive in the fall of 2004 once they finished their tour with The Cure. Lead singer and songwriter Tim Kasher took time to focus on his other band, The Good Life, which he had formed in 2000 and whose third release, 2004's Album of the Year, was enjoying critical success. Ted Stevens worked on his other band, Mayday, along with bassist Matt Maginn, releasing their third album, Bushido Karaoke, in 2005. Drummer Clint Schnase along with bassist Matt Maginn toured with Bright Eyes, including 2004's Vote for Change Cellist Gretta Cohn decided to depart the band permanently, relocating to New York City.
Saddle Creek Records put out a Cursive compilation album, The Difference Between Houses and Homes, on August 9, 2005. These songs were collected from The Disruption, Sucker and Dry and The Icebreaker EPs, as well as some b-sides and unreleased material recorded between 1995 and 2001.
Happy Hollow and Mama, I'm Swollen (2006–11)
Cursive's hiatus ceased in 2006 when Saddle Creek announced that Kasher had temporarily stopped his work on his side project, The Good Life, to start recording Cursive's fifth studio album. Happy Hollow was released on August 22, 2006. Its first single was "Dorothy at Forty", released on July 11, 2006. Named for the Dundee-Happy Hollow Historic District in Omaha, Nebraska, where Warren Buffett lives, with this album Kasher turned his focus away from self-reflective lyrics to concentrate on what he thought were corrupt politics, bland and empty suburban lives, and Christian hypocrisy. The album received generally favorable reviews. Music magazines Spin, URB, Time Out New York, and Blender gave the record a 4 star rating, and Rolling Stone gave the album a 3.5-star rating, while alternative music magazine Alternative Press rated the album a perfect 5 out of 5, saying “Cursive haven't just redefined their sound—they've transcended it.” Happy Hollow features a five-piece horn section, adding new texture and redefining the band's sound in place of Cohn's departed cello.
Cursive's sixth album, Mama, I'm Swollen was released on March 10, 2009 on Saddle Creek Records. Three days later, the band made their network television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman, playing "From The Hips". The album was the first recorded without drummer Clint Schnase, who departed the band in October of 2007. Schnase was replaced on drums with Matt "Cornbread" Compton, who had previously been touring with the band. Retaining the horns used on Happy Hollow, Mama, I'm Swollen has a more straightforward rock sound mixed with shifts in keys and time signatures to break up the potential for monotony. Thematically, Mama, I'm Swollen returns to much of the "romantic narcissism" found in Domestica and loses most of the political focus of Happy Hollow, instead concentrating on the futility of adult life and the "worthlessness of humanity, and the Peter Pan Syndrome of adults who want to 'live life duty free' or fuck away their fears." Mama, I'm Swollen failed to garner the critical success of the past few Cursive albums, with a "weighted average" score of 65 on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
I Am Gemini (2012–present)
The follow-up to Mama, I'm Swollen, called I Am Gemini, was released on February 21, 2012 on Saddle Creek Records. Cornbread Compton was replaced by Cully Symington prior to recording the album. With a lyric sheet described by Ian Cohen of Pitchfork Media as a "full-blown libretto," I Am Gemini is presented as a play, telling the story of "twin brothers separated at birth, one good and one evil, their unexpected reunion in a house that is not a home ignites a classic struggle for the soul." The album has been characterized as difficult to access musically, with Paste Magazine's Tyler Kain saying "[Cursive's] signature parts are still there with those gnarled, winding guitar parts and Matt Maginn’s melodic, grounded bass lines. But the exploration of off-kilter changes, funny time signatures and near-metal breakdowns can make Gemini a hard first listen." I Am Gemini received a similar critical evaluation as Mama, I'm Swollen, scoring a measure of 63 on "weighted average" from Metacritic, or generally favorable reviews.
The Ugly Organ was reissued by Cursive and Saddle Creek in 2014, featuring four additional tracks originally released on 8 Teeth to Eat You and four songs from singles and compilations. Cursive went on a brief tour in the spring of 2014 to support the reissue.
- Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes (1997)
- The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song (1998)
- Domestica (2000)
- The Ugly Organ (2003)
- Happy Hollow (2006)
- Mama, I'm Swollen (2009)
- I Am Gemini (2012)
- Cursive at AllMusic
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