Meat Wave, Campdogzz
Fri, November 2, 2018
Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
Over the past two decades, Cursive has become known for writing smart, tightly woven concept albums where frontman Tim Kasher turns his unflinching gaze on specific, oftentimes challenging themes, and examines them with an incisively brutal honesty. 2000’s Domestica dealt with divorce; 2003’s The Ugly Organ tackled art, sex, and relationships; 2006’s Happy Hollow skewered organized religion; 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen grappled with the human condition and social morality; and 2012’s I Am Gemini explored the battle between good and evil. But the band’s remarkable eighth full-length, Vitriola, required a different approach -- one less rigidly themed and more responsive as the band struggles with existentialism veering towards nihilism and despair; the ways in which society, much like a writer, creates and destroys; and an oncoming dystopia that feels eerily near at hand.
Cursive has naturally developed a pattern of releasing new music every three years, creating records not out of obligation, but need, with the mindset that each record could potentially be their last. 2015 came and went, however, and the band remained silent for their longest period to date. But the members of Cursive have remained busy with solo records, a movie (the Kasher-penned and directed No Resolution), and running businesses (the band collectively owns and operates hometown Omaha’s mainstay bar/venue, O’Leaver’s). The band even launched their own label, 15 Passenger, through which they’re steadily reissuing their remastered back catalogue, as well as new albums by Kasher, Campdogzz, and David Bazan and Sean Lane. And like many others, the band members have been caught up in the inescapable state of confusion and instability that plagues their home country, and seems to grow more chaotic with each passing day.
Which brings us to 2018 and Vitriola. For the first time since Happy Hollow, the album reunites Kasher, guitarist/singer Ted Stevens and bassist Matt Maginn with founding drummer Clint Schnase, as well as co-producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jenny Lewis) at ARC Studios in Omaha. They’re joined by Patrick Newbery on keys (who’s been a full-time member for years) and touring mainstay Megan Siebe on cello. Schnase and Maginn are in rare form, picking up right where they left off with a rhythmic lockstep of viscera-vibrating bass and toms, providing a foundation for Kasher and Stevens’ intertwining guitars and Newbery and Siebe’s cinematic flourishes. The album runs the sonic gamut between rich, resonant melodicism, Hitchcockian anxiety, and explosive catharsis -- and no Cursive album would be complete without scream-along melodies and lyrics that, upon reflection, make for unlikely anthems.
There’s a palpable unease that wells beneath Vitriola’s simmering requiems and fist-shakers. Fiery opener “Free To Be or Not To Be You and Me” reflects the album’s core: a search for meaning that keeps coming up empty, and finding the will to keep going despite the fear of a dark future. The album directs frustration and anger at not only modern society and the universe at large, but also inward towards ourselves. On “Under the Rainbow,” disquiet boils into rage that indicts the complacency of the privileged classes; “Ghost Writer” has a catchy pulse that belies Kasher chastising himself for writing about writing; and “Noble Soldier/Dystopian Lament” is a haunting look at potential societal collapse that provides little in the way of hope but balances beauty and horror on the head of a pin.
Vitriola raises a stark question: is this it? Is everything simply broken, leaving us hopeless and nihilistic? Maybe not. There can be reassurance in commiseration, and the album is deeply relatable: Cursive may not be offering the answers, but there is hope in knowing you're not alone in the chaos.
“Ever since I started playing music, it was always about the feel,” says Josh Karpeh, AKA Cautious Clay. “There are a lot of things in art that you can learn by practicing or studying, but feel’s not one of them. It’s something you’ve just got to have.”
It’s that feel, that deep emotional intuition that fuels Cautious Clay’s sound. Blending R&B, hip-hop, and experimental indie, his productions are dark and engrossing, built upon a unique combination of organic instruments, digital programming, and soulful vocals. He writes with unflinching honesty, engaging in deeply personal self-reflection with boldly vulnerable and vividly poetic lyrics. At times recalling contemporaries like James Blake or Sampha, Cautious is a profoundly modern songwriter and a forward- thinking producer, but he’s also steeped in the past, quick to cite Burt Bacharach as an idol and credit Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones as ever-present influences in his artful arrangements.
“I used to think about songwriting and production as completely separate,” he explains, “but when I learned how to merge those two things, that’s when I was able to start creating music that really connected with people.”
Originally from Cleveland, OH, Cautious began his artistic journey at the age of seven when he picked up classical flute. His studies led him deep into the worlds of blues and jazz, and by the time he hit college in Washington, D.C., he’d added a number of other instruments to his repertoire in addition to songwriting and production. Now based in Brooklyn, Cautious is currently preparing to release his debut EP, Blood Type, in February.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001