Dashboard Confessional's music is the sound of dying, and most modern emo is only slightly less boring than the Pope giving a three-hour mass (in Latin). So what are you supposed to do if you're an emotionally valid artist--you're dramatic and wrought, but not forced or full of crap--and the mainstream eem creeps are ruining sentiment for you and the world?
You call bullshit on everyone, including yourself. You recognize the sickening solipsism, the inherent misogyny, the self-provoked martyr-ism of emotional punk rock--even your own. You turn these repulsions inside out with a brilliant meta-record, a conceptual 12-act play of confession and atonement. You make Cursive's The Ugly Organ.
Helmed by Tim Kasher, whose crackled, raw, and shredded voice is the sound of pain, Cursive's fourth full-length begins with a passionate confessional of a prologue over deft stabs of drums (Clint Schnase), guitar (Ted Stevens, Matt Maginn on bass), cello (Gretta Kohn), and a debilitated, carnival-like sound of a dusty organ. Kasher lays it out from the start: "This is my body, this is the blood I found on my hands after I wrote this album." What follows seethes with immediacy, an album of self-aware self-involvement, which avoids grotesque self-indulgence only because of its brazen honesty. On the fuming track "Art is Hard," Kasher screams, "Cut it out! Your self-inflicted pain is getting too routine Well here we come again/the art of acting weak/fall in love to fail/to boost your CD sales."
When I tell him I think The Ugly Organ is an indictment of both peers and self, Kasher confirms. "I think that's probably right, the way you've interpreted it--but it's also about the idea of that strife, and interviewers and people close to me asking me the question, 'Do you just purposely try to fuck shit up?' And that's just untrue."
Perhaps this is what he means when he sings, "I'm writing songs to entertain/but these people, they just want pain/they wanna hear my deepest sins/ the songs from the ugly organ." The "ugly organ" itself is not Kasher's lung, which collapsed last summer, cutting short Cursive's tour--but clearly, it's the tyrannical heart. It's an overwrought sentiment, but so blatantly, embarrassingly true. Cursive's melodramatic, poetic honesty is refreshing when held up against lyrics by other emotional fakers, who indict everyone but themselves. (Example: "Your hair. It's everywhere. Screaming infidelities. Taking its wear." That barfy little tidbit of profundity comes from Dashboard Confessional's "Screaming Infidelities.") But with The Ugly Organ, Cursive both kills and perpetuates the myth of the tortured musician.
"I'm not going to name names," says Kasher with a shy smile, "but I find the worst poetry when I flip through Spin or Rolling Stone, and they'll do little blurbs about new bands with a blurb of their lyrics as an example of what they're like or where they're coming from. I assume they're an example of the bands' best lyrics, but I can't believe that some of this stuff is passing for emotion. It's really recycled and rehashed, or a paint-by-numbers of what people want. There's no subtlety."
Considering Kasher's schedule--he put all his belongings in storage to embark on two US tours already this year--is it hard to maintain his own emotional subtlety night after night? "It really depends on what's going on, you know," says Kasher cryptically. "It depends on what happened that afternoon I guess I'll leave it at that."