Over the past two decades, Cursive has become known for writing smart, tightly woven concept albums where frontman Tim Kasher turns his unflinching gaze on specific, oftentimes challenging themes, and examines them with an incisively brutal honesty. 2000’s Domestica dealt with divorce; 2003’s The Ugly Organ tackled art, sex, and relationships; 2006’s Happy Hollow skewered organized religion; 2009’s Mama, I’m Swollen grappled with the human condition and social morality; and 2012’s I Am Gemini explored the battle between good and evil. But the band’s remarkable eighth full-length, Vitriola, required a different approach -- one less rigidly themed and more responsive as the band struggles with existentialism veering towards nihilism and despair; the ways in which society, much like a writer, creates and destroys; and an oncoming dystopia that feels eerily near at hand.
Cursive has naturally developed a pattern of releasing new music every three years, creating records not out of obligation, but need, with the mindset that each record could potentially be their last. 2015 came and went, however, and the band remained silent for their longest period to date. But the members of Cursive have remained busy with solo records, a movie (the Kasher-penned and directed No Resolution), and running businesses (the band collectively owns and operates hometown Omaha’s mainstay bar/venue, O’Leaver’s). The band even launched their own label, 15 Passenger, through which they’re steadily reissuing their remastered back catalogue, as well as new albums by Kasher, Campdogzz, and David Bazan and Sean Lane. And like many others, the band members have been caught up in the inescapable state of confusion and instability that plagues their home country, and seems to grow more chaotic with each passing day.
Which brings us to 2018 and Vitriola. For the first time since Happy Hollow, the album reunites Kasher, guitarist/singer Ted Stevens and bassist Matt Maginn with founding drummer Clint Schnase, as well as co-producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jenny Lewis) at ARC Studios in Omaha. They’re joined by Patrick Newbery on keys (who’s been a full-time member for years) and touring mainstay Megan Siebe on cello. Schnase and Maginn are in rare form, picking up right where they left off with a rhythmic lockstep of viscera-vibrating bass and toms, providing a foundation for Kasher and Stevens’ intertwining guitars and Newbery and Siebe’s cinematic flourishes. The album runs the sonic gamut between rich, resonant melodicism, Hitchcockian anxiety, and explosive catharsis -- and no Cursive album would be complete without scream-along melodies and lyrics that, upon reflection, make for unlikely anthems.
There’s a palpable unease that wells beneath Vitriola’s simmering requiems and fist-shakers. Fiery opener “Free To Be or Not To Be You and Me” reflects the album’s core: a search for meaning that keeps coming up empty, and finding the will to keep going despite the fear of a dark future. The album directs frustration and anger at not only modern society and the universe at large, but also inward towards ourselves. On “Under the Rainbow,” disquiet boils into rage that indicts the complacency of the privileged classes; “Ghost Writer” has a catchy pulse that belies Kasher chastising himself for writing about writing; and “Noble Soldier/Dystopian Lament” is a haunting look at potential societal collapse that provides little in the way of hope but balances beauty and horror on the head of a pin.
Vitriola raises a stark question: is this it? Is everything simply broken, leaving us hopeless and nihilistic? Maybe not. There can be reassurance in commiseration, and the album is deeply relatable: Cursive may not be offering the answers, but there is hope in knowing you're not alone in the chaos.
Led by guitarist/vocalist Jessica Boudreaux, Summer Cannibals initially cut their teeth on the local Portland circuit, sharing the stage and receiving encouragement from peers. Along the way, they released a pair of fantastic full-lengths -- 2013’s No Makeup and 2015’s Show Us Your Mind — on their own label, New Moss Records. Show Us Your Mind appeared on NPR’s Sound Opinions Best of list in 2015. The band has since spent an unhealthy amount of time on the road, earning accolades and adding plenty of fresh converts to their highly-charged, no frills attack.
It seemed only logical that when the band decided to sign to a label, they chose Kill Rock Stars, which has a long history of putting out fearless, female-led bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Their most recent release, Full Of It, is the band’s defining statement to date. Recorded with producer Chris Woodhouse (Thee Oh Sees, Wild Flag), the LP is one of those massive leaps forward that every band hopes to achieve at least once in their career. Somehow Summer Cannibals keep doing it over and over again.
With the band’s line up solidified now by long time drummer Devon Shirley alongside the additions of rippers Cassi Blum on guitar and Ethan Butman on bass they are truly a force to be reckoned with. Stay tuned for album number four, it’s sure to be a revelation.
Campdogzz are dialed into the bleak, spirited heart of the industrial Midwest. The Chicago-based five-piece band harbors driving rhythms, insistent dual guitars set in intriguing arrangements, and the haunting, evocative voice of Tulsa, OK-native Jess Price. Her melodies take on the shape of a storm making its way in -- and out just as soon. There’s a feeling of electricity, of winds shifting, a magical mix of both comfort and unease.
In Rounds, Campdogzz’s sophomore album, was written partially in Chicago but mostly throughout the Southwest as Price and guitarist/vocalist Mike Russell traveled, post-tour, in the school bus that used to serve as their band van. Engulfed by desert, this starkness -- like Price’s native Oklahoma -- couldn’t help but seep into the songs. It was a period of collective change for the band as relationships began and ended, people moved and planted new roots. Everyone experienced some sort of massive life shift and the album serves as a reflection of that period, of growth and patience.
Price, who moved to Chicago to become a filmmaker, has spent her life writing songs. She never considered pursuing music, however, until her introduction to Russell and Nick Enderle (guitar, synth) while filming a documentary on their previous band, Suns. While Price is the main songwriter, Russell has been equally integral to the band from the start, shaping the sound and contributing a song completely of his own on each album. Campdogzz’s self-released 2015 debut album Riders in the Hills of Dying Heaven was the brainchild of solely the pair and came together quickly, but In Rounds represents a shift in their creative process. The new album is a more collaborative and intentional effort, written over a couple of years and recorded in 2017 in Chicago. Like its predecessor, In Rounds is self-produced, but this time with production assistance from engineer Nick Papaleo.
Campdogzz have earned a devoted following in Chicago and the surrounding Midwest, with a solid line-up featuring Price (vocals, guitar, organ), Russell (guitar, backing vocals), Enderle (guitar, synth), Andrew Rolfsen (bass), and Chris Dye (drums). In addition to their own headlining shows and a recent tour with Field Report, the band has opened for Big Thief, Sam Evian, Ohmme, and more. They were recently seen in the first season of the Netflix series “Easy,” while Riders in the Hills of Dying Heaven has been streamed more than two million times. With In Rounds, Campdogzz usher us into the dusty windstorm of a melodic midwest -- aching with yearning and regret -- their hymns offering solace on the long road away from home.