On the heels of two incredible albums, Domestica and The Ugly Organ, Cursive has gone and done that dirty deed — the rarities album. And despite it’s cutely self-aware title, The Difference Between Houses and Homes: Lost Songs and Loose Ends 1995-2001, has no hope of living up to its predecessors. The enormity of sound and fury that was captured on those two earlier releases is only hinted at in this undeveloped collection of songs. It’s hardly fair to compare, but that’s the inevitable windfall that every established band encounters with the rarities riddle. Sure there are deserving songs on these sorts of compilations that otherwise wouldn’t get attention, but it’s a tall order to overpower the stench of the half-baked cash grab and nostalgic revisionism.
Aside from a couple of previously unreleased songs, most of the songs on The Difference Between Houses and Homes have been culled together from the band’s out-of-print 7-inches. So unless you were down with these Omahaians from the beginning, then these songs will be new music to your ears. To your heart, they will sound the same. That is, if the whole moaning “woe is me” emotional hardcore thing gets your ticker going. Emo is a sticky subject and probably the single worst name for a musical subcategory (until hick hop started parading its crippled ass around Nashville recently). But for a genre that seems to be defined by its worst purveyors, emo does showcase certain merits and certain practitioners that overshadow its deficiencies. Cursive is one of those bands. With Domestica, they trumped everything that any emo band will ever have to say about, the genre’s definitive neurosis, relationship wreckage. A few years later, singer and songwriter, Tim Kasher overcame life threatening illness and made one of the most riveting albums of the last few years, emo or otherwise.
The Ugly Organ catapulted Kasher and company beyond emo’s confines, similarly to how labelmate and friend Bright Eyes butterflied with his Lifted or… . With no less than the grandeur of a concept album about the pains of artistry, Cursive became something more than another bunch of kids howling plaintively about their sophomoric struggles. And therein lies the disappointment with this collection of songs. Cursive’s retreat to their late ’90s beginnings is just that, a retreat, and it stinks of a wistful nostalgia. The presumed intentions of this project hearken back to the pitiable tendencies of that genre they had seemingly left behind. The songs strengthen this impression as well. From “Sucker & Dry” to “I Thought There’d Be More Than This”, each song lies somewhere between “boohoo” and “fuckyou”. It’s all very familiar and extremely tired. Even Kasher’s werewolf vocals do little to elevate these songs above the average.
Despite The Difference Between Houses and Homes‘s failings, this is still the same band behind some seriously affecting music and the cursivity occasionally shines through. The raw desperation that has defined Cursive’s sound is still evident, providing a reliably careening listen for those fans who have worn out the grooves on their Domestica record. So again, it’s probably unfair to judge Cursive’s past against their future achievements. But here is The Difference Between Houses and Homes on store shelves and in our stereos right now, and we’re supposed to care. Clearly it’s not all that pressing. Hopefully this rarities collection stands as Cursive’s final emancipation from their bygone emo past and isn’t merely wistful retrospection. Now that closure has been granted, better bide our time until their follow up to The Ugly Organ hits next year.
(Editorial Note: Padding this release and potentially distorting this review is an accompanying booklet with a story from Cursive’s Tim Kasher and illustrations from Eastern Youth’s Yuriko Yoshino and was not available at press time.)