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Record Review: Cursive

This story was published August 22, 2005, during an internship at Richmond.com.

Cursive is a band that rode the wave of today’s indie rock music from its roots in Omaha to the top of the charts and into our hearts. They’re part of a tightly-knit group of musicians that stay in the thick of things. In fact, Cursive has one of the most incestuous relationships in the scene, trading band members with other up-and-coming indie kids.

Cursive frontman Tim Kasher got his start with Commander Venus , which featured (during one incarnation or another) Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos , Todd Baechle of The Faint and Robb Nansel of Saddle Creek . Kasher himself has been the driving force behind Slowdown Virginia , Cursive and his personal project, The Good Life .

This month Cursive released The Difference Between Houses and Homes (Lost Songs and Loose Ends 1995-2001) . The album is a twelve-song trip through time and the band’s evolution. Two previously unreleased songs take the first and last track, successfully bookending the CD with brand-new tunes. The other songs come from various 7″s and splits, though they’re new to most of today’s Cursive fans.

This album spans a lot of time, not in years, but in experiences — in late nights and tiny gigs, broken strings and bar tabs. The band grows as you slip through the songs. At times it is the familiar Cursive sound, with Kasher’s whispering, whimpering voice swelling, but there is also a hitherto unheard gravelly edge that puts punk bands like Strike Anywhere or The Sex Pistols to shame. And just when you’re not paying attention, the band throws in a catchy melody and gorgeous chamber-pop harmonies.

The influence of Oberst and the other Commander Venus members is clear, especially during the early-recorded tracks. For example, the opening song has lyrics like, “I’ve never seen you look so down/ I wonder if your heart’s been chewed on.”

It has a fast-paced friendliness and an unabashed teenage vibe, and it’s easy to picture the guys playing it. They’re sweaty-faced with strands of shaggy hair smeared across their foreheads, pounding out the chords in someone’s basement. They look to each other to see if everyone’s feeling it; they are.

I am, too.

The most important thing about Cursive’s music is not the track-by-track analysis of chunky breakdowns, sweet and high-pitched vocals or screaming guitar riffs; it is the connection between the music and the listener. Somehow, in any Cursive album, but especially this one, their emotions are laid so bare and exposed that it’s difficult not to give something of yourself back to the music. Time spent with this CD is like chatting with a good friend. (Only, you wouldn’t be wearing headphones. Or maybe you would. I don’t know, because I spend all my time making emotional connections with CDs.)

It’s difficult to express the scope of this album, because summarizing a band like Cursive is like making gravy. You have to boil things down, and by the time you’ve gotten to the end result, it tastes different than what you started with.

I don’t want to mar Cursive’s flavor by overanalyzing their songs or their role in indie rock. I’m bowing out. Instead, leave with your newfound knowledge of the Omaha musical family tree and the vast capabilities of this band, Cursive.

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