I Am Gemini
The ’90s were kind of a miniature Dark Age in music’s history. Grunge reminded everyone that life wasn’t always as much fun as hair metal bands made it look, and all the drugs made even something as inherently rad as partying look like fun was getting its revenge on us for abusing it for the past 20 years. At some point, people started sub-categorizing music created by and for, and representative of the nation’s bitter “emo” youth and Cursive started doing it better than pretty much anyone. Now, seven albums later, they’ve released I Am Gemini, a story-driven album about twin brothers, representative of good and evil, told via post-hardcore.
Initially, the most notable thing about I Am Gemini is that there’s something less raw in singer/guitarist Tim Kasher’s voice. What once was an empathy-inspiring cacophony of self-awareness through disillusionment about love or whatever, now sounds more like he quit smoking and crying and gave in to the idea that art is hard and it’s simply gonna be that way. Lamentation gives way to assimilation and it’s kind of a bummer for us. They’re still loud, but the grit has given way somewhat to prog, and the juxtaposition of the old and the new makes the new stuff sound more calculated and somewhat over-produced. The band that used to sound like nobody else now seems reminiscent of 2001-era Get Up Kids (i.e. boring). The cool thing about the brand of rock that Cursive made ten years ago is that it took common teenage bedroom pillow-clutch and gave it narrative, making it operatic.
The concept album isn’t new territory for Cursive. They cut their teeth spinning 40-minute fables of philandering, lust, and struggle that were sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes macabre, and always interesting. Conceptually, the songs reached beyond the ephemeral hurt that comes with the realization that the memories that you enjoyed making with someone special will henceforth never be compounded upon. Emo is most often music’s self-reflective means of conveying the idea that being an adolescent is indeed hard, and luckily, CDs are cheaper than therapy. Cursive made this clear a long time ago and, apparently, have since started listening to their parents’ records and reading the newspaper and other grown-up shit like that.
The weird thing is, despite my complaints, when they really commit to doing something unfamiliar is when I Am Gemini sounds the best. The first Single, “The Sun and Moon” is self-deprecation served with a smile. Lines like “You’re actually here acknowledging/ That I am weak/ That makes us complete” look rueful and indignant on paper, but when they gallop along all up-tempo, they start to seem reminiscent of pop in the early ’60s, when songs about unrequited teenage love that walked a bleached-out line of the apprehensive and the optimistic became the sound of America. Kasher’s falsetto-y chorus pushes the track into the same sunshine that Brian Wilson used to walk in, back when he used to smile. “The Sun and Moon” works because it shows the band pushing itself to become something sharper yet more difficult to pigeon hole. But for every exciting song on the album, there’s another one that sounds like some punk kids doing an impression of Cursive.
There’s a lot going on in I Am Gemini. Sometimes too much. The lyrics in the liner notes depict a tale of brotherly betrayal featuring angels, demons, two girls with one head, and the equivalent of the Starchild from 2001: A Space Odyssey (I think). Thematically and sonically, it’s far out, introspective, retrospective, allegorical, incongruous, loud, frustrating, and ambitious. If you think that’s too many adjectives, so do I.