[CD Review] Cursive, 'Mama, I'm Swollen' (Saddle Creek)

I’ve always been more a fan of the Good Life than Tim Kasher’s other band, Cursive, generally favoring his stabs at bookish romance and folk-damaged rock over ragged emoting and thrashing post-hardcore. But these days, the sounds of the two bands have intersected somewhat: the closer on Cursive’s sixth album (“What Have I Done?”) strongly resembles the Good Life until a heavy swath of guitar kicks in after four and a half minutes.

Whatever band he’s fronting, Kasher can be relied upon for heart-wrenching vocals, literate songwriting and cathartic release. “In the Now” sets the table nicely for Mama, I’m Swollen, buzzing with organ before jumping right into the willful refrain “Don’t wanna live in the now/Don’t wanna know what I know” as guitars swerve and squeal and the band assert their firm footing. “From the Hips” is an ode to obeying your instincts, and Kasher asks, “We were better off as animals, right?” before the song abruptly shifts into high gear.

Cursive have always been marked by that sort of dynamic restlessness, which helps Kasher’s ultra-earnest approach and occasional Robert Smith yelp go down smoothly. But sometimes that’s not enough. The Pinocchio-inspired “Donkeys” is silly—“If you’re going to Pleasure Island, you can never go home”—despite its usefulness in depicting a young man lurching toward maturity. “Caveman” is better at addressing the daunting responsibilities of a husband and father, but “Mama, I’m Satan” is cheesy and annoying enough to cancel it out.

By the time the title track finds Cursive in full rapture “to the beat of a blood-red sun,” it’s clear this is an uneven album, caught between charismatic soul-searching and adolescent whining. As with the Good Life and Cursive, it’s not always easy to tell which is which.


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