Concept album I Am Gemini is the seventh release from Cursive during the band’s 15-plus-year existence. Fans who have been there for the whole shebang will be glad to know that the Omaha indie rockers have still got it—and are cozying up to their pre-Mama I’m Swollen sounds. Riddled with unsettling layers and jarring hooks, I Am Gemini is more in line with 2003’s The Ugly Organ than Cursive’s more recent efforts. These same fans will be glad to know that it’s similarly heavy hitting; every note has meaning, there is no fat to be trimmed.
Plotwise, I Am Gemini is unlike any other Cursive creation. Instead of relying on sullen introspection, frontman Tim Kasher projects outward; the story weaved is cohesive and standalone. The progression tells the story of reunited twin brothers Cassius and Pollock; Cassius is good, and Pollock is evil, or maybe they are two sides of one. The album takes the form of a psychiatrically unstable Greek tragedy, complete with a chorus of angels and devils—and a pair of conjoined twins to boot.
In opener “This House Alive,” Kasher’s voice, or rather Cassius’s as indicated by the liner notes (be sure to arm yourself with them), emerges sleepily from discordant echoes that build into rolling layers. Pollock’s voice, also played by Kasher, opens the second song, “Warmer Warmer,” with a markedly different vibe. Chaotic, predatory and aggressive, Cursive makes it crystal clear both lyrically and musically that this character has a dark agenda. At the same time, this song is incredibly catchy with plenty of pop hook—a definite standout track.
In the thick of the story, “Wowowow” is possibly the most successful number. Scratchy, abrasive guitar licks and multiple voices accentuate the haunted carnival angle that Cursive mastered in The Ugly Organ. Eerie keys and pretty, wistful female vocals—those of the conjoined twins—break up the abrasive, deranged ride.
Every so often it’s difficult to separate Kasher’s heady lyrics from the songs themselves. With each song an act in a larger play, it seems like tracks are used to get from one place to another in the plot without always taking how they might sound out of context into account. “Birthday Bash” for example doesn’t have a clear-cut chorus. Repeated guitar licks/chord progressions stand in, making for a more abstract, less catchy structure than is typical of Cursive. That being said, lyrically, this track is integral to the larger story; it serves a definite, larger purpose.
Kasher executes the final song, “Eulogy For No Name,” in a flat, dropped tone, building up to an explosive final chorus. Cursive concludes the story of Cassius and Pollock while still throwing us those clever and grim one-liners that we so love to hang on to: “A twin star, burst into being/Splattered on the orphanage ceiling.”
“Eulogy For No Name” characterizes the album’s place within the larger scheme of all that is Cursive. A classic wailing Kasher chorus and intricately dark, clever lyrics remind us of what has been. Positioned within the structure of a cohesive, separate story, these elements take on a new (non-self-indulgent) meaning. I Am Gemini marks a brave and experimental turn in a new direction, but at the same time it’s a nod to the old—in the best and least wallowing way.