By the way, this CD won’t be released until Aug. 22, even though everyone seems to already have a copy.
Column 83 — Unlikely Underdog
An unbiased look at Happy HollowI have been accused — for good or ill — of being a “homer” for Saddle Creek Records. And for those of you who don’t know the terminology, a homer is someone who always roots for the home team, not a character on The Simpsons.I have been called everything from “the unofficial public relations arm of Saddle Creek” to a “tool” in service of the label. As part of these claims, I’ve been accused of turning my weary eyes away from the labels’ “dark side,” for ignoring its artists’ ignoble personal habits. I can live with that accusation. I have little or no interest in what any musician or artist does off-stage or out of the studio with his or her body (or someone else’s, for that matter). I’ve never been one to sniff around for gossip and gooey “insider” tidbits in hopes of “capturing the real person who lives deep down inside.”It’s the other accusation that gets my fur up, the ones that goes something like “You can’t trust his opinion about Saddle Creek recordings. He wouldn’t dare say anything negative for fear of pissing someone off.” That, my friends, puts the very essence of my critical powers in question. It’s also a load of horse flop. There are artists and recordings on Saddle Creek that don’t turn my crank, and I’ve been more than willing to share my distaste publicly, both in print and/or blogspace. As I’ve said before, I might have interviewed every artist on the label, I might have given them a nod or chat at shows, I might have even drank beer whilst leaning against the railing at O’Leaver’s standing next to them.But I don’t “hang out” with them, dine with them, converse with their parents, attend baseball games or meet them at the mall. I’ve never been to one of their after parties, birthday parties or “whatever” parties. I’ve never bailed them out, sobered them up, or hid them from the cops.I’m sure they’re all nice, fun folks, but buddying up to them or any artist/musician would make it difficult to convey criticism about their art (and not because they couldn’t handle it, because I might not be able to). Plus there’s the whole credibility thing…All of this came to mind when I sat down to write about Cursive’s new CD, Happy Hollow.Within a week or so after the review copies began floating around the network of those “in the loop,” word began to leak that Happy Hollow wasn’t so happy. Before long, people were coming up to me at shows, saying “Psst… heard the new one by Cursive? I’m not feeling it. It ain’t like their old stuff. They’re losing it.” And that’s some of the nicer comments. Others told me that it just plain sucked. That it marked the end of Cursive. That they turned their backs on their fans. That Tim Kasher no longer had anything to say. That the band was “mailing it in” or “going through the motions.”Didn’t sound so promising. I expected the worst when I slipped the CD into my car stereo. I quickly discovered that all those people were full of poo-poo.Along with Domestica — the band’s career-setting high-water mark — Happy Hollow is hands down the best thing Cursive has released in their storied career. It is a pop, punk, drunk, funk achievement. An adventure in brash swagger that shines like a gold lamé suit on a street bum pushing a shopping cart full of garbage through the snow. It is (shall I say it?) a dance album. Yes, Cursive has created music that the masses can actually move to without thinking about it.Add to that Kasher’s down-to-earth lyrics. No longer reaching for strange or introspective “I’m a songwriter writing about songwriting” lyrics, Kasher is now content examining questions that are on all our minds. I won’t get into the concept here other than to say it involves things like Faith and hope and confusion and uncertainty and anger and Faith. And I’m still not sure I know where he comes down on all of it. I have to listen to it more before I can figure it out.I already “get” the music part, the swinging “Dorothy at Forty,” the bombastic “Big Bang,” the strutting “So-So Gigolo” the propulsive “Rise Up! Rise Up!” All worthy of your critical ears. Oh, and did I forget to mention the horns? There are horns, kids. Oh yes, lots of them.And no, it doesn’t sound like any other Cursive album. They’ve already done that. Why would they do it again? If you miss their angular, jangular edgeworks, go listen to Storms of Early Summer (a disc I never liked) or Domestica. They’re still on your iPod.I say all of this with mind and conscience open and untainted. So to all of you bitter, envious folks who think I’m stroking the boys, trying to get in bed with the artists, hoping to “build bridges” to gain an inside scoop — go blow it out your blow holes. This one’s for the home team, whether you like it or not.
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