During the underground rock explosion of the late-’80s to mid-’90s, new scenes seemed to pop up every couple years—Athens, Minneapolis, Chapel Hill and Seattle. The most unlikely was perhaps Omaha, Nebraska. While you might wonder what Omaha has—that’s the wrong tack: Isolation and boredom are the often best fertilizer for a vibrant music scene, each of which Omaha had in spades.
Now more than a quarter century removed from its beginnings, Cursive‘s still delivering taut, biting socio-political rock of a type that’s all-but disappeared from the underground scene. In October it released Get Fixed, its ninth album. (It receives its physical release on Friday, Jan. 17.) It’s the band’s second album in as many years, and follows Vitriola, which had ended a six-year recording hiatus.
It’s not a comeback. Leader Tim Kasher’s balancing a sidelight in film and screenwriting with two other musical acts. Besides the The Good Life’s sudden and unexpected return from an eight-year hiatus for 2015’s Everybody’s Coming Down, Kasher has released two solo discs, the latter of which (2017’s No Resolution) was accompanied by a feature length film.
“I get so tired of waiting around for others and of being propped up and then being let down,” said Kasher, who has had several projects in development the past decade without any reaching fruition. “It was like I just need to get take care of this and get at least one under my belt. … It’s a great way to de-mythologize it or de-mystify [the filmmaking process].”
So while The Good Life was something of an unexpected thing, Cursive always had another record in the offing. Kasher just needed to fit it in a schedule that has grown busier—including another movie development deal for the film based on The Good Life’s 2007 album, Help Wanted Nights.
“It’s important for us that we firmly disassociate ourselves the term ‘reunion,’ because we’ve just been a working band,” Kasher said from Los Angeles, where he has returned after a decade of wandering that included a stint in Whitefish, Montana. But don’t call him a Renaissance Man. “I think a better way of putting it is to say I’m a man of many ambitions.”
Get Fixed is closely tied to its predecessor Vitriola because many of the songs came out of the same recording sessions. (A couple entirely new compositions do make it onto the album.) The election of President Donald Trump lit a fuse in Kasher’s mind that exploded with some of the hardest-hitting music—lyrically and musically—Cursive has recorded since its heyday in the first few years after the millennium. (And a lot of it.)
The nostalgic tone may due to the return of drummer Clint Schnase, who hasn’t played with the band since 2006’s religious-themed album, Happy Hollow. The idea of recording some new music began in the wake of conversations about reissuing its first few albums. Revisiting that old music helped inspire a return to the brash, tight-cornering post-punk rhythms and unsparing lyrical agitprop of its earliest music.
“[The reissues] really helped remind me what the roots of Cursive were, and I thought it was important for the integrity of the catalog that like, well, you should be maintaining that,” said Kasher.
The albums also represent a break with the band’s longtime home, Saddle Creek Records. Founded by producer Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst’s brother Justin, the label is now run by their friend Robb Nansel. Saddle Creek wanted Cursive to stay but the new label, 15 Passenger, is a passion project of the band’s bassist Matt Maginn, who not only worked at Saddle Creek, but also helped launch Conor’s offshoot label, Team Love.
“I feel like that does kind of become maybe one of the last chapters of that story where we went from hanging out in each other’s basements to working as a collective, I guess, but everyone having their own bands and finding success and then suddenly came that kind of next era,” Kasher said, citing how the demands of a music career sent them in different directions. “Everyone is still tight, but you know the thing is it’s kinda hard to keep a certain era of youth vibrant and alive as you get busy with the other facets of your life.”
The band had considered releasing a double album, but instead chose to release two discs a year apart. Its members were concerned releasing so much music at once risked overloading listeners’ increasingly limited attention spans, and they wanted all the songs to get a chance.
The discs self-sorted, with Vitriola tending toward a knotty contrapuntal churn on eddies of angular guitar. Tracks off Get Fixed like the roaring “Barricades” with its complaint about a society trapped by “ignorance—we’re living in our own prison,” and the Sartre-ian “Horror is a Human Being,” harken back to that sound.
But Get Fixed also sports a moodier sound that’s home to songs such as the haunted, meditative “Marigolds;” the swelling, operatic “What’s Gotten Into You;” and the simmering title track, which worries any attempt at remediation may come too late: “The world is turning over, I worry that we’ll wind up on the wrong side.”
“They may forever be considered companion pieces, but Get Fixed feels as though it’s been emancipated from the Vitriola session: The extra care and attention it received has helped it develop an identity very much its own,” Kasher wrote in the letter previewing its release. “These songs of anger, frustration, helplessness and loss feel more poignant to us now than even a year ago.”
The discs are a worthy follower of spiritual predecessor Fugazi, bristling with burning outrage and stinging furor over the narcissism, self-interest and corruption that has divided the United States. But if the surprisingly prolific 25-year-old Cursive sounds as engaged and pissed-off as an un(der)employed and over-indebted Millennial, they need a bit more rest.
“I can assure you,” Kasher said, “that we will probably be go be going back into hiding for a little while after this.”