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Friday, May 25, 2012

Cursive -- The Ugly Organ


I've come to realize that this Every Album I Own series is sometimes just an excuse to explore my own life and history. I know this might alienate some readers, but I prefer to let people know where I am coming from when they get my opinion (though, on a selfish note, these collective reviews may be as close to an autobiography as I get).
I've mentioned the arduous arc of my twenty-fourth year multiple times here.  I look back on the journey of 2005 quite fondly now, but there were several times throughout that I literally thought I would die. Without a doubt, the darkest time was the first half of the summer.  Between mid-May to early mid-August, (after blogging at least every three days) this kicked off my only post:
Yes, I took this picture at 3 a.m.  I quit sleeping, I wasn't eating much, I had no money, no job, essentially no friends, and no known future. I felt like I had let others around me, and more importantly, myself, down.
Like many people along the lower west banks of the Mississippi, I live in a small farming village. That year, lacking any other options, I lived in my parents' house, and I was blood-related to every neighbor I had.
Everyone got out of town that summer--they all left my little patch of earth and swamp for month-long vacations.  This left me staring at the moon rising slowly through moss-hung oaks over Old Man River, and doing this alone for too long can make any man go crazy. My aunt, perhaps taking pity on my financial situation, tasked me with re-painting and working on the empty rent-house next door to mine, while everyone was away.  My only friend in that old house in that abandoned town was a left-behind radio.  I listened to the college station I'd DJ'd at only a year before, though, and that just made me miss my more predictable, fulfilling college life, especially when they played songs released during my time there like Cursive's "Art is Hard," or even more fitting to my situation, "The Recluse."

(BTW, I've always thought "The Recluse" sounded like a more pessimistic update of Camper Van Beethoven's "One of These Days." That's definitely a compliment)

"Art is Hard" and "The Recluse" come from Cursive's The Ugly Organ, a beautiful album filled with self-loathing, fear, and hope.  I'd be lying if I said my situation at the time I've just mentioned doesn't affect my affection for this record.  "The Recluse" doubles in meaning as a solitary person and a poisonous spider, just as The Ugly Organ itself holds multiple meanings.  It's a musical instrument, it's frontman Tim Kasher's penis, it's a metaphor for the songs Kasher writes about misery.  The scope of the album revolves around Kasher complaining that people only want to hear him sing about sadness and how that makes him feel like a fake--yet the irony is that he really is bitterly depressed to the point of self-destruction.
Kasher is freshly divorced here, and while Cursive's previous album, Domestica, explored that more in the depth, the aftereffects are apparent throughout The Ugly Organ. Kasher sounds extremely unhappy about and alienated by the life he is living, and he can't help but fantasize about a life he didn't live, even going so far as to imagine one where he has a daughter being tucked in bed by a man who has taken up with his ex-wife ("Sierra"). Man, I could identify with this stuff.  My now wife (who also DJ'd with me in college) was still at LSU, except with her stupid boyfriend at the time, and not with me.
Ultimate emotional drama!
I was feeling it, and the discordant, violin-tinged rock music of The Ugly Organ struck home in my head.  Kasher, yelping, shouting, and singing pretty, also scatters some pretty beautiful parts into the album just when they're needed.  "The Recluse" is one, and "Driftwood : A Fairy Tale" is another, detailing Kasher's sad depersonalization into a wooden puppet, before drifting into scary whispering, dissonant piano, and white noise--basically every night of my summer that year.
The most beautiful element of The Ugly Organ is its overwhelming hope. This is first found near the end of the otherwise distressing "A Gentleman Caller," where the singer details an escalating series of ugly one-night stands before feeling guilt, and telling his conquest:

Whatever I said to make you think
that love's the religion of the weak.
This morning we love like weaklings.
The worst is over.

In the final track, in a moment only non-humans will find non-affecting, Kasher belts out that he's "staying alive."  Thankfully, this sounds nothing like the Bee Gees (RIP Robin Gibb).  It's an extremely powerful moment. The phrase "the worst is over" is reprised from "A Gentleman Caller" by a choir of voices at the very end of the song, and it lends an air of beautiful finality over The Ugly Organ.  And a year later, I was getting married, working a good job, and living in my own place.

2003 Saddle Creek
1. The Ugly Organist 0:53
2. Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand 1:53
3. Art Is Hard 2:46
4. The Recluse 3:04
5. Herald! Frankenstein 0:47
6. Butcher the Song 3:31
7. Driftwood: A Fairy Tale 4:41
8. A Gentleman Caller 3:19
9. Harold Weathervein 2:59
10. Bloody Murderer 2:52
11. Sierra 3:25
12. Staying Alive 10:06


Ris said...

At the same time that you were going through this, I was being a bratty 21 year old probably going on a month long vacation and having no idea that you were going through this. Also, I was listening to this album.

Nicholas said...

Haha. I think I saw you twice that summer. It's all good.