Thanks to the success of The Ugly Organ, Tim Kasher is now a household name, spoken in the same sentence as Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard. Through Cursive, he painted a lyrical portrait of himself as a self-criticizing, guitar-wielding anti-hero, terminally bummed and forever the miserably hopeless romantic. But kids in the O.C. that are just now putting “Art is Hard” on a mix CD for their drive to school in the morning probably still don’t know much about The Good Life, Kasher’s other band.
In some ways, Album of the Year, The Good Life’s audaciously titled new album, isn’t that different from The Ugly Organ. For starters, both albums feature lead vocals by Kasher, himself. And lyrically, they both touch upon heavy themes of failed relationships, one-night stands, drinking and, of course, songs about writing songs. But that’s pretty much where the comparison stops. Musically, the two bands couldn’t be more polarized. Okay, that’s a lie. If they were Kraftwerk and Hank Williams they couldn’t be more polarized, but without going to that extreme, The Good Life and Cursive are substantially different bands, even if they share a songwriter.
On Album of the Year, Kasher & Co. deliver an adult alternative (no pun intended) to Cursive’s sophisticated, yet aggressive punk fury. Where Cursive fits best in an all-ages venue, The Good Life seem more catered to a dimly lit bar housing similarly miserable patrons in search of a pretty song and an escape. And on Album of the Year, they’ll definitely get the former, if not the latter.
The Good Life’s music is much quieter and ballad-driven than Kasher’s other band. The album’s title track begins the album like an outlaw country ballad with tales of gun battles replaced by that of a relationship going in a rapidly spiraling downward direction. Like Rob and Laura in High Fidelity, Kasher and his lady gradually keep getting more miserable in their situation until finding humor in their pathetically bleak situation: “We laughed until it didn’t hurt.”
The entire album is heftily padded with anthemic one-liners like this. In the new-wavey “Lovers Need Lawyers,” Kasher sings “I could never take another’s hand.” And in the ten-minute long “Inmates,” Kasher duets with Stephanie Drootin, offering more cleverly morose lyrics like “You were a wolf in secondhand clothing/I was your sheep in a pleated skirt” and blunt refrains like “I won’t be your prisoner.”
Amidst all the lyrical misery, the album rarely raises in volume throughout the 55 minutes of Album of the Year. “Night and Day” is a hushed waltz number. “You’re No Fool” rides on a slightly jazzy beat. “You’re Not You” recalls Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and “A New Friend” adds a slight touch of distortion and reverb for atmosphere. Aside from “Lovers Need Lawyers” and the bouncy “Notes in His Pockets,” there’s little to break up the easy late night vibe of the album, which is just fine. This album isn’t meant to be played first thing in the morning.
Give the newly ordained Cursive fans some time and they’ll warm up to The Good Life’s grown-up sadness. It may sound a little different, but it’s still Tim Kasher, after all.
Beulah – Yoko
Bright Eyes – Fevers and Mirrors
Mayday – Old Blood
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.