Generally, I tend to use expletives. Lots of them. When I engage in conversations with others, or myself, my vocabulary is usually filled with colorful words of confounding fuckery. Sometimes more so with some, depending on our comfortability level. When listening to music, it’s so exhilarating when an artist can tastefully include a “fuck” or “shit” without sounding forced, trivial, and contrived. It seems to be a lost art and I wish more would bring it back so long as its placement is don’t right. Oh, the written and spoken word is sometimes a tricky beast.
CURSIVE – VITRIOLA (15 PASSENGER)
So, this happened last month and to my surprise, I’ve heard nary a word about the revitalized Cursive, that indie rock band from Omaha, NE that started more than 20 years ago. The band has never been one to rush their recordings, usually taking a couple of years in between albums, touring incessantly until the wheels fall off. This, of course, was before the band’s hiatus after 2012’s illustrious I Am Gemini. But can I be honest here? I feel I should be honest because we’re all family here and Cursive had been so profound in my own relations with…people. Within the microcosm of my own existence, as I’m sure they’ve done for others, The Ugly Organ (2003) and Happy Hollow (2006) were prerequisite listens for anyone who wanted to have a conversation with me about music. Those are two albums that, again, like many felt as well, were as profound and honest as any could possibly get. Musically, they resonated with a sound that was challenging and unique while lyrically, Kasher’s words were dark & brooding, mired in a shadowy romanticism at times. But this isn’t a book report and so let’s not focus so much on the past, instead, let’s deal with the present and the future.
It’s taken the band 6 years, but they’ve released a new album in Vitriola where they’ve resurrected an instrument not used since The Ugly Organ. The position once held by Greta Cohn is now handled by cellist Megan Seibe, which once again turns the group into a sextet. Seibe’s addition brings in strings where empty space may have been left open but while I am excited with her instrument play here, the band wouldn’t have suffered without her because from track to track, it’s the base, the songwriting that is simply wondrous. From start to finish, we’re all able to feel the tension within the music. The pressure is usually relieved into something beauteous, wrapped around the instrumentation. It’s clear from the get-go with “Free To Be Or Not To Be You And Me,” where the group’s initial disjointed sounds is cleverly masked with an unyielding melody. It’s a grand endeavor as the percussion is magnificently daring: bells, drums, etc., makes it orchestral…but not. The band is confounding, as there are moments throughout the album where you’re forced to think about guitarist/singer Tim Kasher’s lyrics, but that’s the point. The driving “Pick Up The Pieces” shows disillusionment but again, it’s the music that’s the catalyst to make words explode and come to life.
To say emotion drives the band would be an understatement, as Vitriola is filled with an array of it. A sadness and anger seems to drive “Its’ Gonna Hurt,” and lyrics like, “Your trembling eyes betray your pain / you can never forgive me” and “Fuck this world, you don’t owe it shit / Most nights I’d agree with you, never thought you’d be into it” leaves listeners reeling after repeated listens. The starkness of “Remorse” has a landscape where the group plays with guitars feeding back, disjointed percussion, and an amazing effected vocal delivery, all on top of a repetitive and consistent piano line. And then there’s “Ouroboros,” the track that could stand alone as it slips and slides with aggression and precision. Views are expressed over an unrelenting punk aesthetic. Best line is obvious: “The voice of man, has been exposed, as vitriol.” It’s 2018 expressed in one song, powerful and compelling, and never collapsing under its own weight. Maybe we shouldn’t try to read too much into what Cursive has to offer because songs like “Everending,” “Ghost Writer,” and “Life Savings” all have that punk-pop sensibility we’ve always come to love and expect from them. But it’s in the lengthy closer “Noble Soldier/Dystopian Lament” where the band’s play with words is coupled by its play with dynamics. It’s dramatic and tasteful with a juxtaposition of words that humorous and evocative
We can possibly go on discussing the attributes that make Cursive one of the greatest bands of our time, but we don’t really have to. Just listening to Vitriola gives all the answers to the questions we have about them.
KNIFE KNIGHTS – 1 TIME MIRAGE (SUB POP)
Is it ever possible for an artist to reinvent in order to spark critical success after exploding phenomenally into mainstream culture? It doesn’t happen often, but it has. Just take a look at Mike Patton, who is part of the Faith No More collective, a band that found itself with repeated rotation on MTV, back when the channel played music videos. Mr. Bungle, a solo career, Fantomas, Tomahawk, Lovage, and countless other experiments at music have lauded him praise throughout the years. But this isn’t about Patton, I’m only using his name as an example. It’s Knife Knights I’m here to discuss.
Hip-Hop in the 90s saw the birth of Digable Planets, a group Ishmael Butler a/k/a Butterfly was a part of. After the group’s implosion, Butler went on to form Cherrywine, and later, Shabazz Palaces with engineer Erik Blood. Back in May, Butler & Erik Blood introduced their Knife Knights project, which features appearances from Shabazz Palaces. Yeah, it gets confusing but bear with me. 1 Time Mirage (Sub Pop) dropped back in September and this right here, wreaks havoc on the concept of genre-bending. Truth be told, its creepy yet blissful organic feel finds solace with the shared space of electronic loops and effects filtered throughout the album.
Forget about what you think music is supposed to sound like, as “Bionic Chords” holds together layer upon layer of sounds that shouldn’t belong together but works well pieced together. The slow dramatized pace of the beat drags out under vocal interplay which soon merges into “Drag Race Legend.” The track’s pace drags a bit as guitars blare in the distance and an un-syncopated beat seems to push along with the consistent bass line as the track’s art-rock stylings take complete hold of it. But then the mainstream culture filters in through “Give You Game” as semblances of Trap become obvious, with auto-tuned backing vocals. Fortunately, that’s the extent because the track is a banger! Shared vocal duties with Marquetta Miller & Stars Thee Boss change things up beautifully. It’s dreamy. And beautiful, but I’ve said that already.
The Soul, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Dreamy Daze collision on 1 Time Mirage makes it quite the unique sound and vibe. You find the group moving in one direction but then they seamlessly find a path to another. “Seven Wheel Motion” continues with the art-rap/soul route, with varying instrumentation breathing life into the track. Guitars sputter in and out, within a cavernous fuzzed backdrop. Some of the best ideas are culled from experimentation, which I’m sure the majority here would claim. “My Dreams Never Sleep” is built around a beat and a bass line, with space-induced vocals hitting from multiple directions. Literally, shit is dope and requires one’s utmost attention.
I can’t help but think Knife Knights are an acquired taste that many will enjoy but some will dismiss. As a fan of music, you won’t care because your taste is better than that of the detractors. Sit down, press play, and chill.