Music Reviews
Mama, I'm Swollen

Cursive Mama, I'm Swollen

(Saddle Creek) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

When mentioned in conversation, there is perhaps no other band in the world that will garner as much respect or head-scratching as Cursive, the most successful indie act you’ve never heard of. Having reached critical mass in 2003 with The Ugly Organ, the Nebraskan quartet placed their fingertips on the threshold but never quite punctured it, content to remain like shadows behind the gauze. This, despite all the components for a lion’s share of stardom: digestible riffs, quirky asides, and a gravelly-throated frontman in Tim Kasher, whose croaky voice is ridden by Cursive in much the same way that U2 piggybacks Bono’s or The Cure uses Robert Smith’s. In other words, the foundation for dedicated cultism was laid but never truly realized, despite how well the house was built.

Cue 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen, Cursive’s sixth studio album that espouses a brand of smartly-crafted angst straight out of the Rivers Cuomo school of songwriting. With heart firmly stapled to its sleeve, Swollen offers emo ear candy with a twist but never fully destroys the mold the way The Ugly Organ did; there is no piece as painfully sincere or brazen as The Recluse, despite all of the agony present. It is, instead, a quick-and-to-the-point album, almost tailor made for the snippet-loving youth of today’s downloading culture, with a simplicity that seems manufactured rather than genuine. Like a one-night stand, Swollen is catchy, yet quick and easy – forgettable shortly after its brief tenure, it requires no investment on the part of the listener.

That’s not to say that Cursive has become something akin to the syrupy, tissue-wrenching factory line that is Dashboard Confessional. Swollen is, rather, indie music as imagined by people who lionize it, a seemingly incongruent error on the part of a band with such mechanical savvy. Once where there were leaders there are now only followers, with offerings such as From the Hips coming across as likable but never beguiling, seemingly poured to fit some kind of idolized mold.

Other tracks – such as I Couldn’t Love You and Mama, I’m Satan – are appropriately furtive but also strangely disjointed, offering no unexpected passion. When at long last Kasher moans “Are these the best tales that I can spin?” in What Have I Done?, there is some intrinsic (though wretched) truth to it, as if fourteen years of critical seclusion have committed Cursive to going-through-the-motions drudgery. The outright denial and hair-tearing of In the Now seems the penultimate confession of surrender; here Cursive ends the rebellion and commences a midlife crisis.

For a band like Cursive to produce an album as self-pitying and mournful as Swollen is, frankly, a disappointment, especially considering the fact that the Omaha quartet tackled twenty-something melodrama with such delightful insolence on Ugly Organ. But the witty brashness is gone; instead, longtime fans are treated to a heavy-handed, slick-sounding teenage appeal. This is a spiel Cursive surpassed years ago, and such regression and boredom is no way to serve their longstanding indie aura.