Within the confines of post-punk, Cursive has reinvented itself a few times over the past decade, usually following a short-lived breakup. The first came in the late '90s: When the band re-emerged in 2000 with the searing Domestica, it transformed from a middling emo band to the forceful torchbearer of D.C.-style post-punk. In 2001, the band varied its approach by adding a cellist and harnessing restraint; songs grew moodier and more complex. The group's 2003 album, The Ugly Organ, twisted its style further, exploring different sounds with a subtle experimentalism.
Then, mercurial frontman Tim Kasher basically ended the band, keeping busy with his side project, The Good Life. He didn't reconvene Cursive until summer 2005, and once again, he had change on his mind. The result is the new Happy Hollow, another fiery, sardonic album in a series of them. Horns have replaced the cello, and Kasher has replaced his usually personal lyrics with something else: a near concept album about the perils of religious fundamentalism in a small town. Nearly every track delves headfirst into controversy, from the universe's origins ("Big Bang") to homosexuality in the priesthood ("Bad Sects"), to war ("Flag And Family") and more. Instead of rote proselytizing, which would be easy given the subject matter, Kasher creates narratives in the songs to tell a story. It's a folky approach, but Kasher's tales are far too dark and allegorical to be mistaken for "Puff The Magic Dragon."
Musically, Cursive's dynamic, guitar-based post-punk core remains. The horn accompaniment stays complementary, never attracting too much attention on its own (like the cello on previous albums). Like its predecessor, Happy Hollow is a moody album with an inherent instability. The palpable ominousness permeating all 14 songs indicates something bad is coming—Happy Hollow is the soundtrack for the interim before its arrival.