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Cursive's 1997 debut, Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes, was so grossly pregnant with cliches--dramatic stops and starts, romantic travails painted in big tragic strokes--that it took me eight years to give the band another chance. I jumped back in with last year's The Difference Between Houses and Homes, a collection of singles and unreleased tracks from 1995 to 2001, and while the whole thing was still heavy on the emo, the songs had gotten classier as the years progressed--all it took was the addition of some strings and a little restraint. It sounds like Cursive are making a concerted effort to turn a corner on their newest, Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek), a vague political parable about the suffering of a small town in Wal-Mart America. Front man Tim Kasher has finally stopped singing about his divorce--religion, patriotism, and family are the discernible themes--and with a five-piece horn section stepping in for the violin, the band lays down a rollicking bit of gone-funky that takes big cues from the Dismemberment Plan. --Jessica Hopper

The feminists were right when they said the personal was political, but with the generation of protest singers now coming of age it seems the personal is the only politics they know. The songs they write about being pissed at Bush are only slightly more valid politically than songs about being pissed at girls. What we need are more musicians who make the personal political in the way Hutch Harris of the Thermals does. His band's newest, The Body, the Blood, the Machine (Sub Pop), is a terrible idea on paper--a pop-punk concept album about life under a Christian fascist regime--but it works. The unexpected tempos and textures get some credit, but the lion's share goes to the lyrics. Harris never allows his theocratic future to veer off into bad sci-fi; like any good fictionist, he uses the premise to examine the inner lives of his characters. And if what he reveals provokes a shock of recognition in his listeners, some of them might be scared into action. --Miles Raymer

Cursive headlines, the Thermals play second, and Ladyfinger opens. a 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $17 in advance, $19 at the door. A

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