The Ugly Organ

Band: Cursive
Album: The Ugly Organ
Best song: “Driftwood: A Fairy Tale” is, by far, the best song on the record, though “The Recluse” is great and “Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand” is Tim Kasher at his most intense.
Worst song: “Staying Alive” isn’t good.

There’s a nice parallel between Cursive’s The Ugly Organ and Pedro the Lion’s Winners Never Quit. Both deal in the notion of someone dealing with tempation, fame and nefarious hangers on. In the case of the PTL record, it’s in politics, while the The Ugly Organ is something of an offshoot of the “rock singer becomes too much for himself” subgenre of concept albums (The Wall comes to mind).

As such, Tim Kasher’s ode to the rock and roll lifestyle gone wrong is full of highs and lows, presented with a circus-organ recurring theme. In true post-hardcore, early century-style, the record bounds between pleasant hooks and dissonant experiments. As to mirror the protaginist’s emotions, the record record gets harsh in its treatment of “Herald! Frankenstein” as to present the Ugly Organist — the protagnist of the record — and his new creation as a rock star. “Art is Hard” is typically against the music industry machine “Keep churning out those hits/’til it’s all the same old shit” in a blasted scream. “Butcher the Song” follows, as his band begins performing the circusy organ, allegedly messing the song.

Which is to say that this song falls right into the great song on the record, “Driftwood: A Fairy Tale.” Dealing with the notion of humanity in performance is not new; Chan Marshall’s aching “I Don’t Blame You” fits this perfectly. But, Cursive’s Pinocchio story is notable for several reasons. For one, the strings within the record push it along with an intimacy that falls off paralell to the song. The record pushes into a darker territory, with the singer deciding “My name is Driftwood,” as the strings get lost and fuzz guitar engulfs the song. The easy lyrics and Kasher’s voice is, likely, the overwhelming piece of the song. As his whispher-sweet descent becomes more and more desperate as he intones “So he would buy her things and kiss her hair to show he was for real” midsong.

It’s not the song’s thesis — other songs on the record present this — but it’s certainly the best song on the record.

No rock star concept album would be complete without a few songs about the deprived sexual lives of rock stars (though, really, Tim Kasher ain’t no looker…). As such, songs like “A Gentlemen Caller” recall the dissonant unhappiness inherent in the sexual escapades that surround the album’s central figure. Indeed, the album touches on this subject often (the Pitchfork review summed it up well by saying the record described “hollow sexual meandering, the latter summed up in the double meaning of the album title.”).

“The Recluse” works the subject well, as it’s a tender emo song well-accented by Kasher’s self-referential divorced rock star (“I wait, alone/ in a woman’s room I hardly know” is an early lyric) stumbling vocals. Sweet and sad, the song revolves around a circling guitar hammer-on riff. Midtempo and full, it’s tragic and beautiful.

The album is often disjointed and the final song, “Staying Alive” is a picture of this. It’s too long — over ten minutes — and bounces between the obnoxious and surreal. While a good concept, the aforementioned “Herald! Frankenstein” is kind of hard to enjoy. “Harold Weathervein” is excellent for a minute and a half and then crappy for the rest of the song; it is a “plot” song for a concept album and those songs almost always suck.

Which is to say that The Ugly Organ is a typical, albeit more emo, concept album. It’s wildly self-involved. It’s too long. It’s tiresome by the end.

But, I applaud the effort. It’s full of some really great songs and may be Cursive’s best work.

02 – Some Red-Handed Sleight of Hand

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  • By Happy Songs for Happy People | Albums That I Own on August 24, 2010 at 9:37 am

    […] is pretty stark, as my Jens Lekman piece is pretty different, style-wise, from a recent post on a Cursive record, which is different from this or […]

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    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

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