After a handful of records and over a decade on stage, Omaha's Cursive had pretty much hit the glass ceiling of indierock. Sure their previous albums have aged well—from the tragic relationship push-and-pull of Domestica to The Ugly Organ, a totally meta look at a singer writing songs about the task of writing songs—but with so much distance covered in their past, it seemed as if the modern version of Cursive had done little more than paint themselves into a corner. Cellist Gretta Cohn quit the band, singer Tim Kasher focused on his ridiculously underrated Good Life side project, guitarist Ted Stevens did his side thing (Mayday), and the rest of the band disappeared deep within the cornfields of Nebraska. Regardless, their hiatus of the past few years seemed like an ominous breakup-to-be; we were all just waiting for the official announcement. That, of course, never came, and the band went to work on the recently released Happy Hollow, a record that aims (and connects) higher than any of their previous work could ever dream to.
Within the songs of Happy Hollow, Kasher's raspy yowl is still ever present, ducking through each guitar-heavy track in classic form, but now it's backed by a motley army of backup musicians, playing everything from saxophone to piano. Cursive has indeed changed, call it aging, or just boredom, but the band sounds more alive than it has in years.
While Kasher has penned the phrase (and song) "Art Is Hard" to be his own personal mantra of flawed self-discovery and heavy-drinking troubles, it's his current realization that while that may be the case, life is a whole lot harder. That there is a bigger world beyond the dog-eared pages of fanzines or the whispers of small town scenester gossip, that his songs—and the characters within them—exist in a world with larger issues at hand. Much like tourmates the Thermals, Cursive has fled the myopic world of indie songwriting to focus their sites on loftier topics, mainly religion. Kasher explores a faithless relationship with a higher power through various channels, including that of a sexually repressed and emotionally shamed priest who has succumbed to a spiral of temptation. Much like any quality author, Kasher knows how to write with a hook and as his songs tumble forward towards the album's finish, you wouldn't dare think of skipping ahead.
It's not clear what the future will hold for Cursive, whose roots lay in the soiled mess that is emo—especially for a group of corn-fed Midwest dudes who probably relate more to ESPN than they do Fuse. What is clear is that while making a record steeped deep in religion, Cursive had a Darwinian moment of evolution, proving that for a band to survive it needs to keep moving and adapting as time goes by.
Cursive performs at the Roseland on Sat Oct 21