Ever since Cursive burst onto the music scene with their 1997 debut album, the band has consistently and continually churned out heady albums heralded by critics and fans alike. Wrestling with life’s miseries and mysteries, Mama, I’m Swollen is an album brimming with the universal, questioning the human condition, social morality, and the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ of grown men.
After the underground success of their third album, Cursive’s Domestica, in 2000, the band followed up with what would prove to be their breakthrough album, The Ugly Organ, in 2003. A self-aware conceptual record about artistic constraints (or lack thereof), relationships, sex, and the intersection of all three, it landed them on the Arts section cover of The New York Times and accolades from Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Blender, Magnet, Esquire, and Spin – as well as a place on many year-end best lists. Cursive spent the next year and a half touring the album relentlessly, headlining the Plea For Peace tour and playing Coachella before being handpicked by The Cure for their Curiosa tour in late 2004.
Exhausted and admittedly daunted by the task of following up a hit record, Cursive went on an indefinite hiatus before remerging with the adventurous Happy Hollow in 2006. Lauded as a triumphant comeback and evolution of the band by publications such as Alternative Press, Spin, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Blender, the album examined small-town angst, American dreams, and religion. Midway through touring in early 2007, original drummer Clint Schnase amicably departed the band. After a short break following a national tour with Mastodon and Against Me! and feeling somewhat conflicted about proceeding forward without him, Tim Kasher (vocals, guitar), Matt Maginn (bass, vocals), and Ted Stevens (guitar, vocals) decided to begin writing – only without the ambitions of necessarily turning it into the next Cursive record. Shortly thereafter, Cornbread Compton (formerly of Engine Down) officially signed on as drummer by this time and what musically unfolded from this newly realized foursome was indeed…Cursive.
Conceived together in intermittent rehearsals as the band is now spread out across the west and Midwest (Kasher and Compton live in Los Angeles, CA; Maginn in Columbia, MO; and Stevens in Omaha, NE), they road-tested and refined the new material for Mama, I’m Swollen largely via a few shows this past spring and summer. The band’s new process resulted in a more enthusiastic and focused set of ten songs to record when they entered Mike Mogis’ ARC Studios in Omaha, NE in the fall, producing the album themselves alongside AJ Mogis.
Kasher is a storyteller, a weaver of songs that can read more like short stories or fables than the standard verse-chorus-verse. Mama, I’m Swollen finds him at his literate, lyrical best, where references to both Poe (“Going To Hell”) and Pinocchio (“Donkeys”) are intertwined seamlessly within his own tales of characters grappling with the moral quandary of being human, adult, and playing a role in ‘civilized’ society. Musically, Cursive is as smart and sophisticated as ever, the songs’ rousing, cerebral content complemented by moments alternately hushed and exhilarating (the cathartic “From The Hips,” the noisily melodic romp “I Couldn’t Love You”), eerily moody and jaunty (the almost prayer-like “Let Me Up,” “Mama, I’m Swollen”) – moments that often occur within the very same song. From the charging bass lines of album opener “In The Now” to the quiet first chords of confessional closer “What Have I Done?”, Mama, I’m Swollen is a natural progression that remains distinctively Cursive: a fluid amalgamation of the band’s sound past, present, and future – a band that both your punk kid sister and English lit grad student best friend can call their own.
Whew. Mama, I’m Swollen is also one very simple thing: an amazing Cursive record, proving yet again why – after all these years – the quartet remains one of the most exciting and inventive rock bands today.
Cursive plans to spend the majority of spring and summer 2009 on the road.