Cursive's breakout album, Domestica, was one they never intended to make; as such, its heavy-hitting portrait of a marriage dissolved into divorce was something of a final fling in its own right. Since that point, Tim Kasher's second-wind as a songwriter has found him crafting more melodic and well put-together works. The downside to this is that the albums that followed -- The Ugly Organ, their biggest success to date, and its follow-up Happy Hollow -- captured Kasher in a vicious cycle of trying to pin down scenes of middle-class life while backpedaling into writing songs about songwriting itself.
Whether the effort has been a conscious one or not, it often ends up that Kasher writes his best lines about his narrators' own struggles. On Cursive's latest, Mama, I'm Swollen, the band hits the on button from the get-go, marrying the angular guitars of its early years with the tighter structures of experience. The result is something that Kasher's been working towards for years: a melding of Cursive with his second band, the lighter, more forelorn-sounding The Good Life.
Here, too, there's an interesting lyrical twist. While the songs-about-songs element hasn't entirely disappears, it has evolved into a broader discomfort with the eloquence of modernity itself. The sentiment is kicked off in blunt fashion on album opener "In The Now" with the admission: "Don't wanna live in the now / don't wanna know what I know." Thus begins an album that fights not only problems with words, but with our shared history.
Mama's first single, "From The Hips", is a wonderful example of what happens when Cursive gets everything just right. "I don't wanna know the goddamn words," Kasher practically croons from the get-go, and what follows is an ode to the dangers of repetition and the problem of what exactly happens when a creative mind becomes too aware of itself. Elsewhere, "Caveman" not-so-subtly hints that evolution hasn't always been kind. "Donkeys" paints a picture of seedy suburban life, and "We're Going To Hell", "Mama, I'm Satan," and "Mama, I'm Swollen" are, as their titles suggest, battle against self and society.
Mama, I'm Swollen is an album full of sounds: organs and horns are not used shyly, and they provide an appealing backdrop to the disturbed themes that circle through its songs. More consistent than its predecessor but less immediate than The Ugly Organ, it covers not-unfamiliar terrain while managing to make progress on a larger scale. At its best ("From The Hips"), it's remarkable; at its weakest ("Donkeys"), it's unapologetic.