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Artists :: C :: Cursive :: The Ugly Organ :: Staff Review

Cursive is a bit like Death Cab for Cutie in that they’re constantly labeled emo. Of course both are strictly indie rock and not the latest “me too” pop punk acts playing the same three chords with that one vocal style all of those bands use (you know the one!). However, while Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard uses his light voice to sing pretty songs about being sad and lonely, Cursive plays abrasive and tortured songs about lust, love and meaningless sex.

Immediately The Ugly Organ’s instrumentation grabs your attention. The group’s cellist, Gretta Cohn, plays a significant role usually overpowering the guitar and bass. On songs like “The Recluse,” the cello wafts among the background giving a somber feel alongside singer Tim Kasher’s frustrated lyrics. On tracks like “Art is Hard,” it takes a faster, more structured approach guiding the chaotic, frantic guitar and bombastic piano chords.

Fortunately the band plays their other instruments well if not just as effectively. The majority of the album features loud and abrasive guitars and a creepy, otherworldly, and at times deranged sounding organ. The instrumentation is further enriched with a horn section simulating the sexual tension on “A Gentlemen Caller” and constant, upbeat percussion all around.

Of course that’s not to say much of the instant likeability of the album doesn’t come from Kasher’s superb vocals. His ability to switch instantly between quieter, more reserved whispers to complete cathartic screams is impressive. His gravelly, somewhat aged voice is pleasant to the ear and prevents the album’s more sappy content from becoming whiny. Kasher also uses very accessible, somewhat pop-like hooks that’ll have you nodding your head in approval even if you’re not accustomed to any alternative music.

It all comes together into many amazing pieces of music. “Bloody Murderer” for example builds tension with Kasher’s whispers and a distant, soft cello before exploding with Kasher’s screeching, “the mirror crashed on the dresser / and she began to scream,” while glass is heard shattering along with a thunderous blast of guitar.

But however unique or cool the “orchestra from Hell” sound of The Ugly Organ may be, it sometimes falters. There are so many instruments all playing at once that it can sound muddy or too noisy for its own good. Another problem is the at times silly lyrics. “Art is Hard,” being the album’s first single, is easily the most catchy, yet careful listening will reveal what sounds like a lecture on why emo bands suck. Kasher sings lines like “Cut it out / your self-inflicted pain is getting too routine / the crowds are catching on,” “Fall in love to fail / to boost your CD sales / and that CD sells - yeah, what a hit,” and “Oh, a second verse! / Well, color me fatigued.” It’s worth a chuckle, but not exactly something to be touted as your single. But the album contains far worse like when in “The Recluse” Kasher sings, “My ego's like my stomach - it keeps shitting what I feed it.” The dumbest content of the album though comes from “Driftwood: A Fairy Tale,” a song about Pinocchio in love. Fortunately the instrumentation and hooks overpower the compositions making it easy to ignore what Kasher is screaming about when his lyrics stink.

However the biggest problem with the album is that it feels too short. Clocking in at around 40 minutes, The Ugly Organ quickly hits less than 30 minutes when you factor in two dull filler instrumental tracks and the 10 minute clunker “Staying Alive.” The track builds up until it explodes into a wall of undistinguishable noise that really doesn’t go anywhere before quickly quieting down to banal ambience. Because it’s also the last track, I never feel compelled to sit through.

Despite its flaws, The Ugly Organ is well worth a listen. There are far more interesting or cool moments on the album than bad and many of the tracks like “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand,” “Art is Hard” and “Bloody Murderer” have the hooks to keep you replaying them. The cello, which I have dubbed “the emo cello,” is another big plus and something you won’t find it most rock music. It’s just a huge shame that Gretta Cohn would later leave Cursive forcing the band to replace “the emo cello” with a far less impressive horn section on their 2006 follow up Happy Hallow.

Rating: 8/10
Reviewer: genj
Reviewed: January 20, 2007

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