10. Cursive "Vitriola"
[Editors note: please don’t come into this expecting to read a comprehensive album review. You can find that on three dozen other websites. This isn’t that. Thank you.]
At some point this last summer I sat down and opened a note on my phone, and wrote out a list of five albums that reflected my disorientation as I was removing myself from the Christian church and subsequent evangelical communities late in my college career. I wrote an offhand joke about it on Twitter, mentioned it to my fiance, and kept it shelved. The fifth album on that list was “Happy Hollow” (2006), the first album by the band after cellist Gretta Cohn’s exit, signaling the end of what most of my peers probably consider the best part of their career. Or whatever.
It’s hard to argue with the strength of the work that had come before. “Domestica” (2000) is striking in its lyrical and sonic violence, while “Burst and Bloom” (2001) and “The Ugly Organ” (2003) found the band cementing their place as a foundational group for the Alternative Press consuming listener. But all these works were intensely personal, Kasher turning his pen towards marriage, art, and the band itself. “Happy Hollow” felt removed from this sort of navel-gazing, a truly political album about small-town America and Christian hypocrisy, vicious and snarling, sharp brass parts replacing the sinister orchestral vibe the cello has previously provided. It was a difficult album for me to commune with, confirming some of my deepest fears while challenging life-long preconceptions I’d held as universal truths. (Hold your laughter.) I bought it and listened to it a lot and didn’t know how I felt about it for a long time. Not until this year, really.
I’ve seen Cursive twice. The first time was 2004, at Big Game Studios (RIP) in Fresno, CA, with Facing New York opening. This was the first concert I went to after moving there to go to the university. I remember standing in a line of people I didn’t know (but many I would meet, eventually), and I think Joshua Tehee handed me a flier and a button for a Greytank Records show. I remember Tim making a dig at Jerry’s Pizza (the infamous basement venue in Bakersfield) from the stage, and oh, Pinkeye opened that show, as well. I saw them again in 2008 at Howies and Sons, and The New Trust opened that show, and was more incredible to me than anything else. I saw Tim play with The Good Life some time after that (I think), super drunk at the Cellar Door, and I realized I’d always love this man and his work, even if whatever he created after 2009 was going to mean little to me, if nothing at all.
All of this comes together in “Vitriola,” an album that Kasher probably never had to make, but should be considered his greatest work in a decade. After the self-flagellation of “Domestica” and “Album of the Year” (2004) and “The Ugly Organ,” the politicization of “Happy Hollow” seemed like a new direction, but he quickly fell back into diatribes on the ugliness of adult life: “Mama,” even the screenplay inspired “Help Wanted Nights” (2007), into solo efforts “Adult Film” (2013) and “No Resolution” (2017) -- all of these albums confirmed my fears that Kasher would forever be playing the adult rebelling against a society telling him to grow up, be good (whatever that means), and have healthy relationships, no matter how fucked up you are on the inside. But “Vitriola” embraces that madness of self, and finds it reflected in a social and political arena as messed up as he feels, if not more so. Kasher is drawing the lines for us but not leading us to any conclusions. Decades of despondent fury have lead us to a precipice and that canvas is this album, and Kasher returns with the sonic elements that have made Cursive so successful at describing this fissure in the past.
Megan Seibe does everything she could be expected to in these songs behind the cello, and they shine with a grimy elegance because of her string work. Make no mistake: this isn’t an “Ugly Organ” reboot; 15 years on, Kasher’s scratchy vocal delivery still betrays his frustrations, but it feels more refined, less unhinged. It’s less masturbatory, more despondent. It’s the sound of a man so frustrated with the nature of his surroundings he’s throwing his hands up in disgust, only then to discover he’s drowning in the middle of an ocean of corporate control and political scandal.