Tim Kasher is like a sailor. As such he mans a couple different vessels, with Cursive being his main craft. As the Captain of Cursive, he's voyaged throughout the seas of musical genres, early on progressing through the rocky crags of punk, braving the stormy seas of indie rock and sailing swiftly through the Bermuda Triangle of emo, where so many bands were (tragically?) lost. Their latest journey though has produced a new album, Mama, I'm Swollen, which isn't so much a new departure for their musical stylings but rather a synthesis of all the various sounds they've explored in the past
Musically, this is undoubtedly a more rock oriented album. Lacking the horn sections of their previous album, Happy Hollow, or the masterful cello work of Gretta Cohn from The Ugly Organ, Mama, I'm Swollen is an album that seldom feels stripped down. The production quality is markedly more polished than their early works like Domestica or the Storms of Early Summer, albums which both relied on a raw lo-fi sound. Subtle woodwinds appear throughout the album, with a marvelous flute part on track 3, 'I Couldn't Love You'. At least I think it's an flute. I might be wrong.
Lyrically, Kasher seems to have come to terms with the religion he so maligned on Happy Hollow. Instead of questioning the purported existence of one, God, Kasher seems to simply not care. On track 6, 'We're Going to Hell' he implores the listener to let their conscience go because, well, we're going to hell. Instead on this album, the philosophical contemplation falls on the issue of civilization. Though certainly far less of a conceptual album than Happy Hollow, the question of whether we'd be better off as base animals recurs intermittently. Themes of guilt and remorse also pervade the oft misinterpreted supertext of the lyrics. This album is not about relationships, as many would so quickly assume.
One issue I'd note with the lyrical intergrity of this album is that Kasher's writing seems to have lost some of the bite it once had. The shockingly crude and oftentimes ugly lyrics that so characterized Cursive are now replaced with some brash PG-13 metaphors. This album is unfortunately safe to play for your parents, perhaps not your grandparents though.
Overall, this album is not a progression for Cursive so much as a summation. Being a bit shorter than their previous full lengths (ten songs), part of me dares to think that this might mark an ending for Cursive. If I know anything about those industrious Omaha artists though, it's that they'll keep making records. That is if they can stay sober long enough to find their guitars. Now here is where I would end this album review with a clever reference to that sailing metaphor I made before. If only I were clever.