Tim Kasher’s recent foray into writing screenplays should come as no surprise to fans of either of his bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s always taken a very theatrical approach to writing albums, especially with the former. From the delightfully bombastic arrangements to the overarching concepts on each of them, a Cursive album is a dense package.
But Kasher is fooling himself if he thinks his fans loved Cursive for the concepts. Domestica worked because it was about something real. He and his wife just divorced and he was hurting. It was raw, exposing his feelings on a deeply personal level. The Ugly Organ worked for the same reasons. While the concept may not have been as directly tied to something in Kasher’s life, it still hit on some very universal things. “Art Is Hard” didn’t need a thematic tie to anything. It was a song on its own, with a hook, skillfully written lyrics and properly theatrical arrangement. “The Recluse” is a truly sad song reflecting Kasher’s post-marriage life in a stream of consciousness: “Oh Christ, I’m not that desperate, am I? / Oh no – oh god – I am,” and even some dark humor to boot: “My ego’s like my stomach, it keeps shitting what I feed it.” The whole album was a dramatic spectacle, but the themes and the emotion overrode the story. Kasher was going nuts and it made for an incredible album. Even after things settled down in his life, he still found relevant topics to address, take the religious discussion throughout Happy Hollow.
But now we’ve come to I Am Gemini, the latest release from Cursive. The press statement says that the album “is the surreal and powerful musical tale of Cassius and Pollock, twin brothers separated at birth.” Which begs the question: Who the hell cares? We already have Star Wars anyway. The Ugly Organ followed a story of love, lust and empty sex throughout “The Ugly Organist’s” life. The character doesn’t really matter, the themes do. It’s the same reason why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the greatest films of the past ten years and Garden State is not. Only Garden State is still a pretty good movie.
I Am Gemini has all the elements of classic Cursive: driving bass lines, dissonant riffs and plenty of ups and downs. In many ways, this is Cursive’s most complex album musically, but never before have they sounded so mechanical. The structures are jagged and therefore the songs are hard to follow. This isn’t to be dismissive of prog-pop on the whole. Plenty of bands make great technically-proficient, stimulating music that sounds far less forced and have much stronger melodies.
Listeners will have to remind themselves that they are not listening to a Battles record when they get to a song titled “Wowowow,” but if they were, it would be so much more fun than this, even with it’s somewhat circusy riffage. It’s unclear if this is supposed to be half-hearted or completely serious, and with a title like that, it should clearly be neither. Even if that is nitpicking a bit, it’s reflective of the larger problem that the point of this album is either hidden or missing.
We here at Pop ‘stache have discussed the “comeback” of the concept album, and the many cool possibilities the format brings, but albums like this are the exact reason the term “concept album” still makes some music fans cringe.
I Am Gemini isn’t quite the catastrophe it might seem like up to this point. It certainly rocks and the tracks will probably sound good live, but as an artistic statement it leaves a lot more to be desired. Kasher tries to breathe life into his story, but ultimately fails. It’s hard to fault him for his ambition, but this time it just didn’t work out.
Cursive – I Am Gemini tracklist:
- “This House Alive”
- “Warmer Warmer”
- “The Sun and Moon”
- “Drunken Birds”
- “Lullaby for No Name”
- “Double Dead”
- “Twin Dragon/Hello Skeleton”
- “This House a Lie”
- “The Cat and Mouse”
- “The Birthday Bash”
- “Eulogy for No Name”