The role of drunken confessional frontman is a beleaguered one in American indie rock. Once a group reaches a certain level of critical recognition it is difficult for the figurehead to maintain a position of downtrodden underdog without a sense of diminishing returns, and save for The National or arguably Brand New few have managed it in recent years. Tim Kasher of Cursive is one such frontman who has been struggling to maintain his self-targeted vitriol.
Last album Mama I’m Swollen was representative of their declining form and, for me at least, they’ve never quite re-captured the articulated intensity of 2003 album The Ugly Organ. This is now the Omaha group’s 7th studio album and it’s apparent that they’re striving to freshen things up. That said I Am Gemini is yet another concept album, this time about two twin brothers separated at birth and who over the course of thirteen tracks battle one another over a soul or something. Oh yeah, and one of them is evil, and the whole messy affair culminates in some raging symbolic fire in a “house that is not a home”. It’s clear that this sort of storytelling isn’t going to immerse every listener but for the most part it can be dismissed as an allegorical backdrop should you choose to ignore it.
Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the band’s previous output will know what to expect here musically: frantic twisted guitars with breathless dour vocals and dashes of elegance in the odd bit of strings. It’s generally with the latter that Cursive tend to excel, when they expand their palette beyond that of a guitar band, mainly as Kasher’s verbose lyrics often need a similarly grandiose backing to avoid them sounding a bit indulgent.
Unfortunately there’s not a great deal of that going here, on what is one of their heaviest and darkest albums to date. Not to suggest that they’ve gone metal or anything (thought there are some pretty killer riffs throughout), but there is a smoggy claustrophobic aura which invades the album, fitting with the subject matter certainly but not conducive to bringing out the best in them. ‘Wowowow’ is one of the only tracks here which exhibits the mournful delicate “voices in your head” stuff that Kasher does so well, but even that is only tacked on the end of an otherwise rasping track.
It’s a decent enough album, of the kind that Cursive have consistently been turning out for a while now, but there’s just no real spark to it. It becomes difficult to talk about specific tracks, since there really is little that stands out, with things generally just plodding along at a high tempo throughout. The final track ‘Eulogy For No Name’ feels even more limp, even as it builds to a sort of hellfire backing, the story seeming to fizzle away all too quickly – strange, considering that the record was written sequentially.
This is the problem with I Am Gemini, and Cursive as a unit on recent albums. Whilst the melodramatic self-absorbed lyrical content of previous records was often difficult to take in large doses it was at least delivered with conviction. For all of its conceptual heft this just doesn’t pack any sort of emotional punch, and ultimately that’s what this band has previously always done best. I Am Gemini is little more than a solid, if unspectacular, addition to the Cursive back catalogue.