By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
[15 Passenger; 2018]
Key Tracks: “Pick Up the Pieces”, “Remorse”, “Ouroboros”
“Society has got a heinous case of crabs / everybody’s got an itch to scratch,” sings Cursive frontman Tim Kasher, vexed with utter bitterness, resenting the mess of a political climate that America limps through today. Though a sense of ambivalent hope lingers quietly in Kasher’s existential sentiment, Cursive’s Vitriola reveals his burning hatred and the fear for the future as he compares and conceptualizes the current state of America to a dystopian collapse.
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As an artsy, former Saddle Creek staple, it’s no surprise that Cursive can effortlessly create a twisted atmosphere that’s so eerie and dramatic within the first few seconds of the album. With a menacing pulse dictating the entire orchestration, “Free To Be or Not To Be You and Me” builds great anticipation from the beginning. Flowing seamlessly to the next track, “Pick Up the Pieces” alludes to contemporary issues including gun control (“More bullet points / More bullet holes”), corporate media blitz (“Lest we think the news is new / We’ve been on a loop / They’re just tightening the noose”) and civil unrest among the political divide (“This civil war ain’t civil anymore / They thrive when we’re divided hordes”). Finally, the song scrapes against Kasher’s skin, revealing his nihilistic worldview: “This world’s a turd to polish up / Pick up the pieces / We’re the yin, the yang / It’s all the same.”
Without a doubt, the album gets darker with every song, as the instrumentations get more chaotic and neurotic, especially in “Ouroboros”, which points out everything that is wrong with the modern world by a disarray of synths wailing over guitar screeches and echoey vocals. “Life Savings” touches on materialism, while “Everending” emphasizes the struggle of seeking beauty in a world outweighed by shame and regret. The album ends with a 7-minute epic, “Noble Soldier/Dystopian Lament”, which fully takes advantage of the band’s theatrical quality and ends the experience with haunting ambiance.
Kasher’s compelling and honest lyrics stand out all throughout, but most importantly, the cello is back. The band has reunited with its old members, also teaming up with their longtime producer Mike Mogis. It brings severe nostalgia to the baroque-inspired aesthetic from The Ugly Organ, but darker, which is fitting to their concept. As always, their experimentation with production and their unconventional approach to music theory heightens the overall musical mayhem exponentially.
As Cursive is no stranger to tackling challenging themes in their concept albums, the power of Kasher’s metacognitive commentary and his subversive attitude toward these issues is insightfully critical and eye-opening, not to mention how oddly accurate his analysis can be at times. Cursive has artistically achieved a lot during their run, but Vitriola is by far the most genuine, realistic and relevant record they have released.