Say you're a band and you decide to strip the typically introspective, woe-is-me-and-my-relationship elements from your new album and replace them with Big Questions about God, humanity and existence.
Would this new album, then, be comparatively "lightened up"? Or just enlightened?
That's the poser Cursive has thrown listeners with its fifth and latest CD, Happy Hollow. There's no real right or wrong answer. And if there is, the guys of Cursive aren't sure of it.
Either way, it's a nice change of pace.
The Omaha-based quartet has previously indulged in a fair amount of navel-gazing, allowing the introspection to hit all-time highs with its 2000 release, Domestica, which followed frontman Tim Kasher's dissolving marriage. That effort was followed by the equally pensive Ugly Organ in 2003, which featured a hurting, bitter, post-divorce Kasher.
With Happy Hollow, Cursive eschews the hyper-personal and moves toward the fairly impersonal. And it's all accomplished by focusing on a fictional, small Midwestern town by the same name. The theme centers around Christianity, its pros and cons, and its salvations and shams. And every song is a perspective given by a different denizen, be it a priest or a layperson.
It's certainly a fresh take; how many emo bands have attempted full-on, robust concept albums? Scratch that how many emo bands have attempted full-on concept albums about something other than their ex-girlfriends?
Bassist Matt Maginn, on the phone from Los Angeles, says the band members himself, Kasher, Ted Stevens (guitar, vocals) and Clint Schnase (drums) knew where they were going with the CD, and that it was just a matter of getting there.
"Really, it was just the desire to do something different," Maginn says. "Something that was still uniquely ours, but to try to stretch the sound even further. It's something that we've been trying to do since Domestica."
As the group's primary songwriters, Kasher and Stevens generated the fever pitch and religious fervor.
"[Happy Hollow is] more spiritual introspection, and not as much relationship stuff," Maginn says. "It's nice. It's healthy. We explored the topics in some of the older records, but never in so many songs."
All the dirty laundry hangs out here science and evolution, abuse, brainwashing yet Cursive never asks listeners to choose a side for or against Christianity. When Kasher sings, "You're not the chosen one / I'm not the chosen one," he's not stating he knows the answers, but rather imploring listeners to at least think about their own beliefs and the issues at hand.
"It was a good time for the band to do something like this, too," Maginn adds. "It's lighter on one side, but it's heavier on the other. We ask, "What's life for? What are we doing? Is there a God?'"
To keep things interesting, other storylines are entered into the plot, including that of a young aspiring actor-turned-prostitute in "So-So Gigalo" and a disenchanted, middle-aged woman named Dorothy in the raucus "Dorothy Dreams of Tornados." Dorothy may or may not have Wizard of Oz connections but she's certainly surrounded by heavy-handed Oz-applicable metaphors.
Sure, it's all highfalutin and high-concept, but the trick to Happy Hollow is that the album actually sounds different from their past work.
At one point Kasher sings, "Dorothy, wake up, it's time for work." Certainly, it's a demand Cursive has heard before. This time, the band answers the call.
Cursive with Jeremy Enigk and Planes Mistaken for Stars
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Friday, Nov. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15, all ages; visit ticketweb.com.
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