Before you read this thing, I feel it’s my duty to provide you, the reader, with an explanation of what this is, but also to give credit where credit is due.
My name is Alex Schelldorf, and I like the band Cursive. A lot.
This year, I’m in the process of writing about one album every day of 2013 for my project, One Record Per Day.
As part of each day’s post, I try to do a bit of background research on the group and album. While looking for the cover art of OutKast’s Aquemini, I discovered Rembert Browne’s “Stankoff 2011” – an NCAA March Madness-style single elimination tournament. Comprised of 68 OutKast songs, the tournament was a region-based replica of the greatest and most exciting tournament in all of sports.
I won’t claim to be the biggest OutKast fan in the world by any means. They’re a tremendous hip-hop group, and by some accords, even legendary.
But the post was inspiring to me on a different level entirely.
As a big fan of both sports and music, I knew I wanted to recreate Browne’s tournament with bands that I hold near and dear. The problem is that many of the bands I listen to don’t have a large enough discography of songs to justify a 64 or 68 song tournament. Sure, many of them can support a 32 song field, but the fun and excitement of March Madness is the underdog stories: the 15 seeds with the massive upset or the 12/13 seeds making deep runs to the Sweet 16. Doesn’t get much better than that.
So, Rembert. Thank you. As Chicago said: you’re the inspiration.
Without further ado, I present the first ever in the Subjective Rumbles series:
SEEDS: Each song was seeded according to how much I like them. Simple as that. Higher seeds are my favored songs. The problem I ran into is that I like so much of the Cursive discography that even songs with “low” seeds are still ones I adore. In essence, the seeds don’t matter except for the purpose of a tournament-style bracket.
PLAY-IN GAMES: There are 4 play-in games, one for each of the bottom 8 songs, used to determine the true #16 seed. In the NCAA tournament, 2 of these games are used to determine higher seeds (#11). I just used these last 8 songs to complete the bracket. They’re all decent songs, but not enough to warrant a higher seed. So it’s like 4 #17 seeds battling to see who will lose to the #1 seed in the first round.
ADVANCING: Songs advance based on how much I like them. Not really much to it.
FINAL FOUR LOCATION: 725 N. 14th St., Omaha, NE (Physical location of Saddle Creek Records)
And finally, a reminder. It should go without saying, but this is the Internet, so I’ll spell this out: this is all my opinion, and completely subjective. I think Cursive is an exceptional band with a stacked catalog of songs, and deserving of something like this.
There are 4 regions in total: Portland; Slowdown, VA; Venus; and Anywhere, USA. For more information on the making of this project, which explains a little bit about the inspiration of these region names and my utter failure in color coding each song by its album (what a disaster), check out the behind the scenes action here.
Portland Region: “Art is Hard” (The Ugly Organ) *overall #1 seed
Slowdown, VA Region: “Sink to the Beat” (Burst and Bloom)
Venus Region: “The Martyr” (Domestica)
Anywhere, USA Region: “Dorothy at Forty” (Happy Hollow)
Here’s how the whole bracket plays out:
PLAY-INS: Winners in Bold
PORTLAND – Bracket #1
(17) Herald! Frankenstein vs. (17) After the Movies
SLOWDOWN, VIRGINIA – Bracket #2
(17) This House a Lie vs. (17) Semantics of Sermon
VENUS – Bracket #3
(17) Making Friends and Acquaintances vs. (17) Tempest
ANYWHERE, USA – Bracket #4
(17) The Rhyme Scheme vs. (17) Downhill Racers
For the 4 play-in games, I attempted to incorporate even the earliest of Cursive’s work: Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes and The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song. I looked at the 6-month averages and chose the most-listened to songs from those albums. For the other three entries, I picked the two shortest songs (“Herald! Frankenstein” and “This House a Lie”), which are sorta like interludes; as for “Making Friends and Acquaintances,” well… them’s the breaks. … “After the Movies” wins because I couldn’t see picking a 47 second song over it. … “The Rhyme Scheme” is a great tune, but I just don’t connect well with their early catalogue. Onto the first round…
PORTLAND – 1st Round
(1) Art is Hard vs. (16) After the Movies
(8) Fairytales Tell Tales vs. (9) We’re Going to Hell
(5) Staying Alive vs. (12) Dorothy Dreams of Tornadoes
(4) The Lament of Pretty Baby vs. (13) Into the Fold
(6) Bloody Murderer vs. (11) Bad Science
(3) A Gentleman Caller vs. (14) The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst
(7) Donkeys vs. (10) Mama, I’m Swollen
(2) Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand vs. (15) Lullabye for No Name
Portland – quick 1st round musings:
“Into the Fold” got a bad draw (which is to say: I unknowingly gave it a bad draw). … If it weren’t for being up against a number one seed, I think “We’re Going to Hell” could have made a better run. … “Bad Science” with the upset. … No other big surprises.
SLOWDOWN, VA – 1st Round
(1) Sink to the Beat vs. (16) This House a Lie
(8) This House Alive vs. (9) Opening the Hymnal/Babies
(5) The Great Decay vs. (12) Gemini
(4) Mothership, Mothership, Can You Read Me? vs. (13) The Sunks
(6) Eulogy for No Name vs. (11) Caveman
(3) Bad Sects vs. (14) A Birthday Bash
(7) The Recluse vs. (10) The Cat and Mouse
(2) From the Hips vs. (15) The Night I Lost the Will to Fight
Slowdown, VA – quick 1st round musings:
That 6/11 match-up was a tough one, because “Eulogy” is a solid tune. “Caveman” got me today. … So, the 7/10 between “The Recluse” and “The Cat and Mouse” was one I paid a lot of attention to, because the Last.fm most-played Cursive track the last 6 months is “Recluse.” I mean, it’s a good song and all, but the most listened to song? That I do not understand. For that reason alone, I advanced an I Am Gemini tune. Anarchy, amirite.
VENUS – 1st Round
(1) The Martyr vs. (16) Making Friends and Acquaintances
(8) In the Now vs. (9) Shallow Means, Deep Ends
(5) The Radiator Hums vs. (12) Twin Dragon / Hello Skeleton
(4) Big Bang vs. (13) At Conception
(6) Rise Up! Rise Up! vs. (11) Wowowow
(3) I Couldn’t Love You vs. (14) A Red So Deep
(7) Warmer, Warmer vs. (10) So-So Gigolo
(2) The Casualty vs. (15) Tall Tales, Telltales
Venus – quick 1st round musings:
All chalk here. … The only second glance I even gave a lower seed was the 7/10, if only because “So-So Gigolo” houses the phrase “small-town Adonis,” which is what I aspire to be.
ANYWHERE, USA – 1st round
(1) Dorothy at Forty vs. (16) The Rhyme Scheme
(8) Double Dead vs. (9) Driftwood
(5) Drunken Birds vs. (12) Hymns for the Heathen
(4) What Have I Done? vs. (13) Butcher the Song
(6) Let Me Up vs. (11) Retreat!
(3) The Sun and Moon vs. (14) The Ugly Organist
(7) Flag and Family vs. (10) Mama, I’m Satan
(2) Sierra vs. (15) Harold Weathervain
Anywhere, USA – quick 1st round musings:
Mostly chalk, but I’m bummed, because there’s a bunch of good stuff in here. … Bad draw for “Hymns for the Heathen” – dunno what I was thinking, man. Sorry. … “Flag and Family” doesn’t advance because I had a thing for “Mama, I’m Satan” while listening today. Really underrated tune.
Who’s Left After Round 1
Domestica: 5 songs
Burst and Bloom: 3 songs
The Ugly Organ: 5 songs
Happy Hollow: 6 songs
Mama, I’m Swollen: 9 songs
I Am Gemini: 4 songs
PORTLAND – 2nd round
(1) Art is Hard vs. (9) We’re Going to Hell
(5) Staying Alive vs. (4) The Lament of Pretty Baby
(11) Bad Science vs. (3) A Gentleman Caller
(7) Donkeys vs. (2) Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand
Portland – quick 2nd round musings:
Tough draw for both “We’re Going to Hell” and “Bad Science.” … “We’re Going to Hell” has such an eerie, sexy vibe about it. … That horn section in “Bad Science” though? C’mon. And “No skateboards, no swimming pools, until you’ve finished your state-approved chemistry” is an incredible line. Totally Huxley. Hard to knock “A Gentleman Caller” though because it’s so angular and moody. … Can’t pass the chance to give props for the line “We may be donkeys, but at least we’ve got a tale to tell” in “Donkeys.”
SLOWDOWN, VA – 2nd round
(1) Sink to the Beat vs. (9) Opening the Hymnal/Babies
(5) The Great Decay vs. (4) Mothership
(11) Caveman vs. (3) Bad Sects
(10) The Cat and Mouse vs. (2) From the Hips
Slowdown, VA – quick 2nd round musings:
Sink to the Beat, no brainer. … That 4/5 though- I almost picked “Great Decay” just because “Mothership” is so much to type over and over. … Today is the very first time I’ve ever abbreviated “Bad Sects” (B.S., duh), which was an eye-opening/duh moment. Gives new meaning to the song.
VENUS – 2nd round
(1) The Martyr vs. (8) In the Now
(5) The Radiator Hums vs. (4) Big Bang
(6) Rise Up! Rise Up! vs. (3) I Couldn’t Love You
(2) The Casualty vs. (7) Warmer, Warmer
Venus – quick 2nd round musings:
“The Martyr” continues to roll. … Minor upset #1: I still love you, horn section of “Big Bang.” You just can’t compete with history. Origin puns! … Minor upset #2: “Rise Up! Rise Up!” No matter how much I love “I Couldn’t Love You,” the message in “Rise Up!” is too difficult to not advance.
ANYWHERE, USA – 2nd round
(1) Dorothy at Forty vs. (9) Driftwood
(5) Drunken Birds vs. (4) What Have I Done?
(6) Let Me Up vs. (3) The Sun and Moon
(10) Mama, I’m Satan vs. (2) Sierra
Anywhere, USA – quick 2nd round musings:
Minor upset: I don’t care that “The Sun and Moon” was the single off Gemini, “Let Me Up” grew on me (It used to be the song I liked least off Mama), and has an ridiculous video. … BIG UPSET! “Mama, I’m Satan” is another crazy good tune, and my affinity for The Ugly Organ had faded over time. “Sierra” is nothing to slouch at, but if anything, Kasher’s batshit insane scrawlings are either the greatest idea for a lyric booklet or legitimately crazy. This round also marks the last of all I Am Gemini songs in the tournament.
Who’s Left After Round 2
Domestica: 4 songs
Burst and Bloom: 2 songs
The Ugly Organ: 3 songs
Happy Hollow: 3 songs
Mama, I’m Swollen: 4 songs
I Am Gemini: None
PORTLAND – Sweet 16
(1) Art is Hard vs. (4) The Lament of Pretty Baby
(2) Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand vs. (3) A Gentleman Caller
Portland – Sweet 16 musings:
Alright, so here’s where the decisions get really tough. “Art is Hard” is the classic Cursive song, right? Probably their most well-known single, from their most ‘popular’ album. It’s even where this very tournament’s name comes from, a self-inflicted jab. The #2 song on Last.fm can’t be wrong… right? But, “Pretty Baby.” Maybe the crux of the Domestica story arc. The last minute and a half of the song building up to an aggressive – and satisfying – climax. But a #1 seed is at the top for a reason, and I think “Art is Hard” resonates better with people than moon rape. Jk, that’s not a legitimate reason (but please still beware of its plausibility).
This bracket was heavy on The Ugly Organ, with 3 of the top 4 picks from that album. I guess in bracketing the way I did (kind of a grab bag approach to the middle picks, but I was confident with all of the top 4 seeds), which was almost completely at random, I ran into some balance issues. This is visually represented by an early version of the bracket, which was color coded by album. Regardless of any arbitrary balance issues (after all, this is all in good-natured fun), for me, the concentrated fury packed into 113 seconds of “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” outweighs the build-up and eventually “do-do, do-do, do-do, dah-doo”s that even the most whiskey-soaked Cursive fans are able to belt out. Something about the flow of the song, straight out of the gate with that absurd kick-snare open, does it for me every time. And though I’ve been critical of Greta Cohn’s role in this era of Cursive, her cello works so well here. What puts it over the top, though, is: “This is the blood I found on my hands after I wrote this album. Play it off as stigmata for crossover fans… Some red handed sleight of hand.” Holy shit, Tim.
SLOWDOWN, VA – Sweet 16
(1) Sink to the Beat vs. (4) Mothership
(2) From the Hips vs. (3) Bad Sects
Slowdown, VA – Sweet 16 musings:
I won’t say that I picked “Sink to the Beat” over “Mothership, Mothership, Can You Read Me?” because it’s less to type, but I’m also not not saying it either. Kasher’s always been a meta writer, and combined with the robotic effects on his voice at the open of “Sink” put this over the top for me. I can’t knock on the actual conclusion of “Mothership” though, if only for his dragging out of “forever” and the subsequent breakdown. What’s up with how it ends though? … I picked “From the Hips” over “Bad Sects” because it’s so unassuming. Mama, I’m Swollen is a surprisingly sexy album. I’ll never get over the warm bass tones, and this is one of those records with deeply affecting cover art. For me, that sets the tone more than anything. Trying to listen to something while imagining it being written or performed under a literal blood red moon is a lasting, pervasive image for me.
VENUS – Sweet 16
(1) The Martyr vs. (5) The Radiator Hums
(6) Rise Up! Rise Up! vs. (2) The Casualty
Venus – Sweet 16 musings:
So as much as I would like to advance the first Cursive song I ever listened to (thanks, Internet friend from California in Y2K), I can’t look past “The Martyr.” Such a dire, haunting song. And while Kasher is more blatant in his criticism of religion on Happy Hollow, and makes light of it in a playful way on The Ugly Organ, I’m a sucker for phrases or metaphors with multiple entendres. I am definitely in the camp that believes “The Martyr” could go both ways: describing the character in Domestica’s story and the story of Jesus Christ. That Kasher doesn’t make a distinction between the two here is no mistake. It’s for that reason that “Radiator” gets trumped. … And as for why “The Casualty” wins out over “Rise Up! Rise Up!” in spite of the brilliant but stupefying line Rise up! Rise up! Live a full life, because when it’s over, it’s done, well… the first 20 seconds of the song was enough for me even as a 14 year old to know that the band was way different than anything else I’d listened to up to that point.
ANYWHERE, USA – Sweet 16
(1) Dorothy at Forty vs. (4) What Have I Done?
(6) Let Me Up vs. (10) Mama, I’m Satan
Anywhere, USA – Sweet 16 musings:
It pained me to down “What Have I Done?” in favor of “Dorothy” here. For being the longest song in Mama, I’m Swollen at over 6 minutes in length, it doesn’t drag, building to an intense resolution. It’s also where Kasher makes a meta reference to “scratching lyrics on paper plates“ and pens one of his most desperate lines yet: I spent the best years of my life waiting on the best years of my life, so what’s there to write about? But “Dorothy” is one of, if not the star of Happy Hollow. From its vaudevillian open and its reappearance near the end, to the mores (square inches, picket fences, clothes on the line, naps at noon time, paid vacations, entertainment – aka the ‘American Dream’), to those horns- really, that whole section from 1:45 until 2:03 is a classic. Damn. What a song. … Meanwhile, in “The Battle for Mama, I’m Swollen” are two of the darkest Kasher songs to this point. They are also the 2 lowest-seeded songs left, and the Cinderella run for “Mama, I’m Satan” continues. Of note here though, is the bizarro music video for “Let Me Up.” It’s a surreal, almost Lynchian piece that I think is an example of what hell is supposed to be like? I don’t know because I’m not very smart, so make up your own mind. It doesn’t deter from the song. What it doesn’t have is Kasher’s aforementioned psycho babbling. Deal breaker. Now to the region finals…
Who’s Left After Sweet 16
Domestica: 2 songs
Burst and Bloom: 1 song
The Ugly Organ: 2 songs
Happy Hollow: 1 song
Mama, I’m Swollen: 2 songs
PORTLAND – Elite 8/Region Final
(1) Art is Hard vs. (2) Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand
Region Winner: “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand”
SLOWDOWN, VA – Elite 8/Region Final
(1) Sink to the Beat vs. (2) From the Hips
Region Winner: “Sink to the Beat”
VENUS – Elite 8/Region Final
(1) The Martyr vs. (2) The Casualty
Region Winner: “The Martyr”
ANYWHERE, USA – Elite 8/Region Final
(1) Dorothy at Forty vs. (10) Mama, I’m Satan
Region Winner: “Mama, I’m Satan”
Elite 8 musings:
Getting down to the nitty-gritty here. Biggest story to develop out of this whole tournament is “Mama, I’m Satan” as a 10-seed making it all the way to the Final Four. It’s such an unassuming song until its conclusion, and even after it’s over, it’s such a slap to a face that needs to be slapped again. Over and over, because that face deserves it. … “The Martyr” edges out “The Casualty” as the supreme Domestica champion, no matter how good the line Marching two-by-two, a soldier’s down, flood gates burst, and I’ve said things I wish you’d never heard is. … “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” bests “Art is Hard” as the better Ugly Organ song. This one will probably get me a lot of flak, but in the end, even though it’s a shorter song and serves as the the lead-in to “Art,” I can’t help but feel like it’s the most memorable song on the album. The group made money off of indifference. What’s better than that? … “Sink to the Beat” is a classic. Sorry, “Hips.” You’re still sexy. On to the Final Four…
Who’s Left for the Final Four:
Domestica, Burst and Bloom, The Ugly Organ, Mama, I’m Swollen: 1 song each
FINAL FOUR – OMAHA, NEBRASKA
(2) Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand vs. (10) Mama, I’m Satan
(1) Sink to the Beat vs. (1) The Martyr
Final Four musings:
It gets tougher and tougher. The “Gonzaga” run for “Mama, I’m Satan” comes to an end at the hands of what I feel is the best song off Ugly Organ, pitting “Red Handed” against Domestica’s finest, “The Martyr.”
Now to settle a winner for this thing.
“The Martyr” (Domestica) vs. “Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand” (The Ugly Organ)
Simply put, “The Martyr” is a canon song. No two ways about that. It is, for me, the quintessential Cursive track. Though I’m eager to hear the response to this, know that as one person’s opinion, I’m neither right nor wrong about it. But even from the first time you hear it, “Martyr” gives the listener a sense of purpose in seeking out what’s true to them. Yeah, it’s a part of the Domestica story, but it’s also a critique of organized religion. And isn’t that the point of listening to a band like Cursive: to be entertained, but also enlightened? Kasher is entitled to his opinion about spirituality, and the questionable lineage/existence/purpose of the messiah every bit as much as I feel I am entitled to tell you that “The Martyr” is, and will continue to be their best work.
This concludes the first ever Subjective Rumbles. Stay tuned for the next one. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates and future posts.
Thanks for reading.