Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Cursive's "The Ugly Organ"

Tim Kasher wants you to believe that he hates his job. "Cut it out - your self inflicted pain/is getting too routine" he sings in "Art is Hard." Maybe it's justified. After all, the emo crowd doesn't exactly want to sing happy songs. Four of the songs concern Kasher's seeming disillusionment with songwriting and his "fame." Interestingly, this form of self-examination and questioning yourself within the project I found to be intriguing. Other than that, the quality of this record varies immensely, ranging from beautiful to total crap.
"The Recluse" is the album's standout track. Shying away from washes of distortion and dissonance that sometimes clutter up the other tracks, this song explores the emptiness found in meaningless sexual encounters. This is Cursive's first record with cellist Gretta Cohn and her touches bring this song to a new level. I absolutely love the cello and I;m glad that someone finally got the sense to make it part of a band instead of importing band dropouts to add phrases on just a few tracks.
Then Cursive lets me down. Big time. Now I must say I don't dislike concept albums (which this falls under) but please make it worth my while. "Herald! Frankenstein" is just a bunch of noise with the purpose of letting Kasher say in a stupid mad scientist voice "Now I can't stop the monster I've created." Now I understand what he's saying, that now that he's found a niche, it's impossible to stop, but it's such a waste of a song. One wonders why they didn't just make it one of the between track filler things, it's that crappy.
Cursive owes Modest Mouse royalties with "Driftwood." I instantly thought of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" when I heard the intro to this song, with it's heavy bass and multiple vocals. Luckily it isn't a complete ripoff and a somewhat decent song. Next is "A Gentleman Caller" which takes way too long to develop into something listenable. Another thing: This is an enhanced disc that contains live videos of "Art is Hard" and "A Gentleman Caller" and other older songs, and Cursive is a much better studio band than a live one. Maybe it was just a bad day but Kasher's vocals don't even resemble those on the record and the arrangements sound muddy and just plain bad, especially on "A Gentleman Caller." I will address my views on live vs. studio some other time.
If there's one thing I've grown to hate, it is a song about the singers kid he never sees. It ruined the Ataris latest record, and though it doesn't sink to that level of schmaltz, "Sierra" almost made me gag. He doesn't sink into the "I miss you so much," crap until the last part of the song, instead focusing on the mother and hoping she's having as bad a time as he is, which is an interesting departure. Then of course he ruins it with "My little girl" part. What a shame.
I want to like Cursive, I really do. And sometimes they actually give me reason to, but then they betray my newfound loyalty with songs like "Staying Alive," a song stretched far beyond its intentions, into the self indulgent arena, much like the last track on Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity." I give this 7.5 tacos, mainly because "The Recluse" saves the record from total failure. I wish that Kasher had explored the self-doubting theme throughout the record instead of hiding it among the regular emo fare. That would have been an album worth getting excited about. But then, how much self-inflicted pain can a man take?
The Ataris – “So Long Astoria”

Pop-punk is this decade’s version of hair metal. The spiked hair, the chains, the piercings, the tattoos; Am I the first to notice this? Today’s New Found Glory is yesterday’s Faster Pussycat, and one wonders if we will be packing into small clubs 15 years from now cheering geriatric versions of the rebels we held so dear (see: Great White).
The other curious thing that these two genres have in common is that after a while, they all begin to sound the same. Therefore when I picked up a copy of The Ataris “So Long Astoria,” I was expecting the same high energy, distorted power chord driven sound that has gripped the part of the American youth fed up with slick pop stars, a la the youth of the 1980’s. I was not disappointed, as they rarely strayed from the formula that has made them stars.
Maybe I’m being too hard on The Ataris, after all they’ve been churning out pop-punk masterpieces since way back in the day. “San Dimas High School Football Rules,” anyone? They were signed to Columbia Records off of punk label Fat Wreck Chords, joining the list of punk/indie bands who have recently “sold out” to the major labels.
“So Long Astoria” begins with the title track, and yes, it’s very catchy, but so is 80’s video game music. No one can doubt songwriter Kris Roe’s ability to write a strong hook, but his ability to vary his approach to songwriting is what makes this a tedious record. “In This Diary” is their first TRL winner, with the main theme being “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up,” a motto proclaimed by those whose lives didn’t become what they envisioned it to be, and therefore must warn us of the dangers of turning 21.
“The Saddest Song” shows promise, deviating from the muted power chord intro with a piano, and then crash lands into an overly sappy song about missing his daughter, rife with, yup, you’ve got it, distorted power chords. Nice sentiment, but no.
The lone standout track is “All You Can Ever Learn in What You Already Know.” Yes, it’s basically the same musical formula, but instead of recalling forlorn love it tackles the concept of disillusionment with the status quo middle class American life.
After that things begin to get almost comical. They include a cover of Don Henly’s “The Boys Of Summer.” Terrible song, terrible cover version. They even try to punkify it by replacing “Dead Head Sticker” with “Black Flag Sticker.” Please. As if that isn’t enough, “Radio #2” bemoans the very valid fact that corporate radio is a huge scam (And why I haven’t listened to the radio in three years), but the sad thing is that this album will garner them large amounts of radio airplay, pushed by the record label. Ironic, isn’t it?
Then, then they give us two hidden bonus tracks! Oh wow! But guess what? One of them is just “The Saddest Song” with an acoustic guitar. Exact same vocals and piano part as the regular version, just made to sound like a bad 4-track demo. I blame this on Green Day. The other bonus track sounds like a bad MxPx cover, and a complete throwaway. Honestly, why not add two more tracks to the regular CD and call it complete? It’s not like they’re giving us something special. And they call it hidden? There’s a 20 seconds pause at the last “real” track before them. Wow. If you want hidden, try the end of the Dropkick Murphey’s “The Gang’s All Here” where it has an elderly woman leaving irate messages on her son’s answering machine after three min or so of silence. That’s hidden.
Overall, I give this CD 5.5 tacos out of 10 possible tacos. It’s pretty good for the confines it is limited to, but in the scope of all music, it just doesn’t carry any weight. It will be in the bargain section of a record store in 10 years, right next to Poison, reminding us that packaged rebellion is just repackaged for each generation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Hey, this is my first post. I've created this to review the cd's I buy, the concerts I go to, and maybe tell some stories to keep my friends who might visit entertained. Will anyone read it? Beats me, but I'm going to post reviews anyways, just cause I can.