Music News & Reviews

Rock band Cursive writes a good story

Cursive's current lineup is, from left, keyboardist Patrick Newberry, guitarist Ted Stevens, bassist Matt Maginn, drummer Cully Symington and guitarist and frontman Tim Kasher.
Cursive's current lineup is, from left, keyboardist Patrick Newberry, guitarist Ted Stevens, bassist Matt Maginn, drummer Cully Symington and guitarist and frontman Tim Kasher.

Tim Kasher loves a good story.

Together with his bandmates in the Omaha, Neb.-bred rock collective known as Cursive, he has designed musical novellas on recordings including 2000's Domestica and 2003's The Ugly Organ. The themes are often dark, restless and even a little depraved. But they develop into narratives that color the band's inherent post-punk foundation with accents of prog-ish complexity, metal-tinged tension and even pop-inspired fancy.

In rock 'n' roll's olden days, such a merger of serialized storytelling and musical variety was known as the concept album. But on its newest work, Kasher and Cursive up the ante. Instead of a story driven by a central protagonist, the band has forged a saga propelled by two characters with very different agendas.

The album is called I Am Gemini. The title can be traced to Greek mythology, where twins Castor and Pollux exist as mortals with god-like tendencies. Kasher offers a wholly earthbound variation. His twins — Cassius and Pollock — represent themes that predate even the Greeks: good and evil. As a result, their clashes provide inspiration for an album that employs a vivid electric vocabulary to further the story line.

"It's a really a very traditional storytelling device as far as basic songwriting goes," Kasher said of the design to I Am Gemini. "We went with this idea of twin brothers, which in itself is a very old concept. You had the good twin and the evil twin. We kept with that idea as the album progressed — you know, sun/moon, cat/mouse, analogies like that. From there we kind of split the album into two halves, the first being lighter and the other darker. That kind of split personality is how the album played out."

Musically, though, I Am Gemini moves at an even faster, more jagged clip than the story. Drunken Bird, for instance, tumbles to earth in torrential guitar blasts but then eases into the more atmospheric Lullaby for No Name. Then Double Dead snaps the story back to life with music that falls between lean, '80s style No Wave rock and more prog-inspired pop. Imagine Jethro Tull crossed with Mastadon.

"There is a kind of kind of duality to the music, just as there is to the story. But that is really more the product of a band working together.

"The story structure and lyrics were all done prior to going into the studio. That made things really handy when we recorded. I had some chords and riff structures to go with the lyrics. That allowed the band to write the music and make attachments accordingly so that, say, track 8 would link with track 9."

For Kasher, I Am Gemini is the culmination not only of the music that Cursive has generated since it formed in 1995 but of the inspirations that began kicking around in a fertile Omaha music community.

"Omaha has this kind of middle-of-nowhere Midwest reputation," he said. "But we grew up in this really cool music scene. I mean, we were never born and raised with the idea of 'I'm going to make it.' We were making music for ourselves and for each other within this great community of musicians. We were playing for each other, but that was really important. Your expectations should never be low, even if they're for your hobbies or your daydreams."

That sense of community carried over into the music that Cursive began to send outside of Omaha, first as a quartet augmented by cello and now with a core trio of Kasher, co-guitarist Ted Stevens and bassist Matt Maginn (the three are joined on tour and throughout I Am Gemini by keyboardist Patrick Newberry and drummer Cully Symington). Even then, the band's artistic aspirations were modest but pronounced.

"Since I could remember, music was kind of my temporary career. It's just that this temporary career now spans well over 10 years. To me, it's all about sustainability. That's all I ever really thought about. We want to keep putting out records that are relevant enough so that people would hopefully want to hear another one."