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Vitriola (2018)

Cursive

... read moreLongstanding champions of angular, high-concept post-punk, Cursive settle into a slower pace as they approach their 20-year mark. A string of emotionally intense and conceptually dense albums included 2006's Happy Hollow, 2009's Mama, I'm Swollen, and 2012's I Am Gemini, the sometimes Byzantine saga...

Review

Longstanding champions of angular, high-concept post-punk, Cursive settle into a slower pace as they approach their 20-year mark. A string of emotionally intense and conceptually dense albums included 2006's Happy Hollow, 2009's Mama, I'm Swollen, and 2012's I Am Gemini, the sometimes Byzantine saga of twins separated at birth. Eighth album Vitriola marks the first new music from the band since I Am Gemini and goes in a different direction, with lyricist/guitarist/vocalist Tim Kasher turning away from traditionally intertwined narrative songwriting. Rather than linking lyrical Venn diagrams, the ten songs here largely inspect feelings of rage, hopelessness, and anxiety in an endlessly frustrating political climate. Musically, a somewhat reshuffled lineup (original drummer Clint Schnase returns after over a decade, and touring cellist Megan Siebe makes her first recorded appearance) reawakens some of the energy of earlier albums, like the reintroduction of a cello to the band's sound that recalls 2003 high point The Ugly Organ. From its first moments, Vitriola crackles with tension and anguish. Kasher addresses feelings of a pointless existence with palpable anger on album-opener "Free to Be or Not Be You and Me," screaming into the void over a monotonous chug provided by the band. Standout songs like "It's Gonna Hurt" and lengthy centerpiece "Ouroboros" both employ Cursive's now-trademark churning rhythms and terse dynamics as Kasher runs wild in spouts of nihilism and dark societal critique. The musical composition is more interesting than the sometimes overwrought I Am Gemini. Dissonant and angular riffs cross-pollinate with haunted cello and the occasional synth tone, and rhythms are locked in tight, explosive patterns as Kasher's bilious lyrics float overhead. At times, the hopelessness of Vitriola approaches bitter ranting, but even the especially bleak perspective on wage slavery and all-powerful money in "Lifetime Savings" feels like informed catharsis, not just seething negativity for no reason. Kasher's lyrics, by turns defeated and outraged, match the tension and anxiety that the songs palpitate with until the end of the album. Taken as a reaction to toxic politics, a relentlessly discouraging news cycle, and generally raw emotions, Vitriola is a beautiful slice of wild anger. While it can feel relentless at times, these songs find Kasher and his bandmates swinging at anything that moves with all the passion and power of their best albums. ~ Fred Thomas

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