Criteria - En Garde (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


En Garde (2003)


Stephen Pedersen - always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Here's a guy who was a founding member of Cursive, playing on everything they did up until their untimely demise in 1998 when Tim Kasher got married and moved away. Pedersen chose to spend his downtime going to law school at Duke University.

We all know what happens next. Kasher gets divorced, reforms Cursive sans Pedersen, and is currently acheiving success they never imagined.

So what happened to Pedersen?

While at Duke, he formed a band called the White Octave. The White Octave put out two records, one on Deep Elm and one on Initial. Live, they were a force to be reckoned with, but recorded, the fire just wasn't there. It didn't help that Stephen still hadn't really figured out his vocal style, and as that's always a big selling point for bands, the White Octave didn't do too well.

Then they broke up, Stephen moved back to the now-cultural hotbed that is Omaha, and spent the days watching all his old friends receive more and more praise for doing something he once was a part of.

If I were him, I'd be pissed off too. And if I were pissed off, I'd record this album.

Each of the ten tracks on Criteria's debut are full of raw, emotive lyrics put to intensely catchy rock music. Lines like "I started a band that can't break up / 'cause it's down to one man" and "I know I'm second string in this town / and I'm fine with it / I'm down in the basement trying to make shit up" [in the devastatingly good "It Happens"] really expose the open wounds Pedersen has been nursing since Cursive's rebirth, it seems.

I'm not really sure what to compare this to, as while there are influences present, it doesn't sound like much of anything else out there. I do get a very strong Pinkerton vibe from a lot of the disc, just from how open it is. Essentially, the album is simply a half hour of one man pouring his heart and soul into the words he sings and the rock he plays. There is nothing fake about Criteria. It's the best work Stephen Pedersen has done in his musical career, and frankly, I think I might like this album even more than the new Cursive album.

Like woah.

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