A Cursive Memory - Changes (Cover Artwork)

A Cursive Memory

Changes (2008)


Vagrant Records seemed to be shifting focus when they started releasing albums from bands like the Hold Steady, the Futureheads and the Lemonheads, and it was a smart move. Not only were these bands a departure from the ailing emo scene Vagrant had become synonymous with, but they were also producing stellar records. That's part of what makes the label's choice to release Changes, the debut record from A Cursive Memory, so strange. See, A Cursive Memory are merely re-hashing the sound of other bands -- namely emo ones -- that have come before them, and while this could simply be Vagrant's way of attempting to stay relevant in a market they once dominated, Changes isn't even a good record for its niche audience.

The album opens with "South," a song that, thanks to some poppy piano lines, pleading vocals about the opposite sex and a giant chorus, sounds like a tune from Something Corporate's catalogue. Elsewhere, the pop-rock with hints of atmospherics found in "Bank" recalls Mae, while tracks like "The Piano Song" and "All the Weak" resemble the emo-tinged rock of A Cursive Memory's former tourmates Boys Like Girls, and "Tonight Lites" touts the sort of synth-laced pop-punk Motion City Soundtrack could write in their sleep.

Even the songs that seek to branch out a bit, like the sunny summer-teen-flick-soundtrack sound of "Perfect Company" or the Glassjaw-meets-radio-pop tone of "Lions" fail to find any sort of lasting value thanks to the band's other Achilles' heal: lyrics. Listen as the band spell out the word "everything" for the chorus of (you guessed it) "Everything" or the way they discuss romance's most important phrase by singing, "I never thought I'd say this again / The three words that you never said / The one phrase that breaks a heart in two / Cuz [sic] angel I love you," and then later informing us that said phrase is made up of "five vowels / and three syllables." These clichéd and embarrassingly sentimental outpourings continue throughout the album, making it obvious that these guys were still in high school when penning these lyrics.

Maybe that is the cause to most of the issues here: young bands often imitate rather than innovate, and songwriting is a process that most often improves with age, but even the production -- something I'm sure these boys did not handle themselves -- leaves something to be desired. One guitar tone consistently used on the album is way too crunchy, yet also way too faded. It sounds like someone is running a metal zone pedal through a 15-watt amp that is placed on the opposite side of the room from the microphone. The result is a bizarre and distracting sound that will suddenly pop up, encircle a piano line in all its faux-metal glory, and then disappear again. Meanwhile, other tracks seem to suffer from poor mixing with certain instruments being lost in a cloud of noises while others rise way too far above.

The result is an album that just feels rushed. Maybe Vagrant wanted to make sure they could use the "still in high school!" label or maybe they wanted to guarantee they had a representative for this radio-friendly wave of emo before it to died out. Either way, from the songwriting to the production, Changes is a sub-par effort full of the sort of mistakes that are all too common in this genre.