Singles collections are, more or less, the musical equivalent of an old photo album. There are highlights of events of years past, unforgettable moments, and odds and ends that just somehow managed to get caught on film (or tape in this case). Listening to them brings about a feeling of nostalgia, yet can also reveal the imperfections of youth — a few sour notes, poor recording quality, fledgling songwriting. But we’re still captivated by that imperfection. Even if it’s not always great, it’s certainly charming.
The Difference Between Houses and Homes, the new seven-inch and rarities compilation by Omaha mainstays Cursive, is just such an album. Though they may currently be one of the most inventive and captivating punk rock outfits in the Midwest, or even America, they had to start somewhere. And in this case, that somewhere falls into Pavement-meets-Dinosaur Jr.-with-a-hint-of-Fugazi territory. The songwriting isn’t nearly as tight, lead singer Tim Kasher’s voice sounds a lot more “emo” than it currently does, and everything is just a little bit sloppier. And, perhaps by coincidence, the band included a song here called “Nostalgia.” How curious.
Fans shouldn’t have a problem with listening to the band’s early efforts, as even though they weren’t as accomplished an act as they are now, they did have plenty of rockin’ tunes, that, though sounded slightly similar to other bands, were fairly individualistic in their own right. Playing off of sheer volume in most of their earliest work, the limitations of their sound, including their then-lack of a cellist, became less obvious, mainly just because they were playing the hell out of their instruments.
“Dispenser” may be more of a benign indie pop tune as far as these songs go, but when they really get going, like on the powerful “Icebreakers,” Cursive can play a Hell of a post-hardcore anthem. “There’s a Coldest Day in Every Year” is more sparse and gloomy than many of the other tracks, while “A Disruption in the Normal Swing of Things” is one of the most jagged rockers of the set, veering much closer to Fugazi than Pavement.
Cursive can even be heard evolving on this set, to some extent, though few of the songs match the depth of those on recent favorite The Ugly Organ. But maybe that’s a little too high of a standard to hold them to. Difference has plenty of enjoyable songs, nonetheless, while offering a look back through the early days of a band that was well on their way to greatness.
Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary
Dinosaur Jr. – Bug
Modest Mouse – Building Nothing out of Something
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.