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Cursive, Happy Hollow 

(Saddle Creek, CD)

On Cursive's latest full-length, the band calls humanity on its bullshit through the standard, "wake-the-fuck-up" music of American rebellion: rock 'n' roll. The disc features legions of crunchy, aggressive guitars and crashing waves of cymbals, punctuated by horn stabs that are at one moment artfully dissonant, and the next, simply trying to out-loud the axes.

This is a 14-track concept album set in a small town called Happy Hollow. But considering the numbness of its central characters, it might as well be named Happily Hollow. "Dorothy at Forty" finds songwriter Tim Kasher screaming, "Wake up! It's time for work." On "Babies," he deconstructs dreamy optimism, singing, "Maybe you've been given to this world to make a difference / Such delusions we all struggle with." Kasher says 'sup to the Big Guy Upstairs on "Retreat!": "Since you've been on holiday, we've hosted some wars over you." And he's just getting started.

Much of Kasher's rage is directed at the usual suspects: Christianity as hypocritical sham; war as, well, war. But since this is a rock 'n' roll record, there's also a populist streak. A connection occurs between performer and listener when Kasher whispers, "I know this is wrong, because we're told this is wrong." It's even more affecting if you've recently caught the president on TV offering his own hollow rhetoric. Nevertheless, Cursive's latest sounds less like an MFA thesis and more like someone working a double shift with a hangover.

Kasher certainly seems familiar with the angsty ground upon which he treads. At one point, he expresses sheer existential frustration, hollering, "It's time to stick a fork in the merciless socket of time!" Later, he confesses, "I've wasted half my life on the thought that I'd live forever."

Throughout the record, the band points out the absurdity of humanity's struggle by examining such wide-ranging topics as politics, religion and even the dreams of small-town girls. Sure, it's only rock 'n' roll, but at least it's about something. Hear Cursive on Wednesday, May 16, at the Higher Ground Ballroom with These Arms Are Snakes and Ghosts of Pasha.

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