For the most part, I’m adverse to concept albums. To me they ring of a prog-rock tone – high on art, extenstive soloing and some deeper understanding of music. Bands have been doing this since the days of Pink Floyd, Yes and more recently the Mars Volta. In the case of Omaha’s Cursive, most of the band’s releases have touched on concept, without jumping in headlong -- and that’s for the good. While liner notes in Domestica seperated song lyrics into a short play, the band’s newest release, Happy Hollow, steps further into the concept realm.
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Following the small town of Happy Hollow, we meet a collection of sexually charged teenagers, guilty priests, gigilos and citizens with feelings both red and blue on war. The success of following one group of characters, like any novel, falls on whether those characters are even likeable.
In the case of Happy Hollow, often that bar is met. In Bad Sects, a priest and his parishioners deal with the guilt the feel over living a life that can be less than spiritually and morally perfect.
In Flag and Family, a rocking anti-war protest song, a song fights his parents over whether he should go to war. Certainly, the song stance is that of the liberal art rock band, and the song’s haunting refrain, “When you’re on your knees are you praying for holy war?” resonates loudly in such a conservative political climate with such a “spiritual” president.
Musically, the band remains as straightforward rock as they always have. Singer Tim Kasher sings on the verge of yelling, and power chords and catchy hooks are still around. Long time Cursive fans will notice one missing element, that of cellist Greta Cohn, who left the band last year.
To replace her, a horn section was assembled. Does it work? Well, not really. Thankfully, the horns are rarely used in every song; actually they are heard quite sparingly, but when they are it just seemed like they tossed in a trumpet where the cello used to be. I’ll admit, I had high hopes for a Vegas-revue style Cursive, but the creative and brassy edge to their musical addition just isn’t there.
Like the past work of Cursive, there is always a few tracks that stand out (how about The Recluse, probably the best track off of The Ugly Organ), but the majority of songs just sounds to bland and similar to the others.
Kasher is still a fantastic songwriter, and the debate of whether he is the best to come out of Omaha is certainly debateable. But Kasher seems to shine when he slows things down, like in his side project The Good Life. I won’t compare the two acts, but atleast with his side project, you get to see inside his soul a bit. With Happy Hollow, he hides it behind the blank venire of a shallow small town with nothing to say.