Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cursive--Happy Hollow (2006)

Album-Happy Hollow
Release Date-Aug 22, 2006
Label-Saddle Creek
Genre/Style-Indie Rock

Personal Rating-Recommended!

Review-by Marisa Brown

Having somewhat successfully escaped from the catacombs of post-divorce, lead singer Tim Kasher set his sights on a new problem for Cursive's next record: religion. Happy Hollow, comprised of "fourteen hymns for the heathen" — a table of contents is given in the closing track — candidly discusses problems with Christianity and its current manifestation in American society. Each song on Happy Hollow is sung from a different perspective, be it the priest's or parishioner's, and explores ideas of sin, untruth, and those murky areas where the right answer, the right thing to do, is anything but obvious. The album's not dismissing God or the idea of one ("Retreat!," aka "the church of doubting Thomas," is in fact addressed to God), but it does demand that people take control over their own lives and think for themselves ("You're not the chosen one/I'm not the chosen one" he sings repeatedly). It's a plea for progression, to not lose ourselves among unreasonable arguments given by hypocritical spokesmen; it's a call for the return to the Enlightenment, where the scientific process and rational thought rule. This is a touchy subject, though, and Kasher's aware of that, so while he certainly doesn't censor himself, he's also careful not to commit the same transgressions he's accusing the Church of. He doesn't moralize or pontificate ("I'm not saying who's right/I'm just saying there's more than one way to skin a religion," he admits in "Rise Up! Rise Up!," otherwise known as "hiding in confession"), but he does raise questions about the presumed righteousness and intolerance he believes are all too prevalent. It's confrontational but not dogmatic; he makes his point but he doesn't set it in stone.

The thing is, even though it deals with such a formidable topic, Happy Hollow is still a whole lot of fun. It isn't anger or disillusionment so much that propels the record as it is bright horns and vocal lines with allusions to third-wave ska and even indie electronica. Cursive haven't reinvented themselves — the heavy guitars and conversational, intelligent lyrics and the occasional pained scream are all still there — but Kasher's vocals are less raw and the band's attention to strong, interesting phrases moves the album into musical territory that Cursive have usually passed over for something more angsty. It's unbelievably effective, with accessible, emotional melodies and provocative lyrics that bounce and roll against the synth chords and brass section. It's the Wild West in 2006, complete with gospel, new wave, and rock influences — it's a dissection of modern society and politics, of human fear and blindness, a kind of indie musical theater, with a full cast and plotline. It's Cursive at their finest, challenging and smart and absolutely riveting, a group that's been able to stay true to itself and its past while still being able to mature, and finally, finally sound as if they're having a little bit of fun doing it.

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