Reviews

Album of the Year

Author: Derek Miller
09/03/2004 | Pitchfork Media | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
"I was reading Fante at the time/ I had Bukowski on the mind." In the midst of the opener on The Good Life's latest album, the cheekily titled Album of the Year, lead singer Tim Kasher is name-dropping his taste for curb-front cult faves. Now, I hate to be a quibbler, but perhaps Bukowski's more applicable to the emotional thrashing in Kasher's other group, Cursive. The more appropriate literary one-off for this record might be Nelson Algren, whose resurgent castaways could settle quite comfortably into the spoon-fed healing and isopropyl fumes of Kasher's newest songs.

Whereas Cursive has made a career of pleading for catharsis through bruised, over-the-top emoting, The Good Life has always detailed Kasher's lonely nights; he formed the group for the material that would have sounded too sleepy alongside most of Cursive's ranting and raving. Adopting soft, shadowed hues and more rounded arrangements for his confessional tales, Kasher's The Good Life project has made steady progress from its Cure-esque first two albums to more crisp, autumnal sounds.

Album of the Year's premise is somewhat ungainly: to document the passage of a year in 12 songs, one for each month. But, to appreciate its stark, lovelorn poetics, you need know none of this. The songs are instantly welcoming, flickering with enough hope and tenacity to outlast Kasher's heartbreak. It's not enough to revel in your own melancholy without understanding what's being gained through its endurance. Augmented by Mike Mogis' best production of the year (and manning the boards for a label like Saddle Creek, it's been a busy one), each song seems to hover in fathomless space, but interacts with an effortless synthesis that belies such separation.

"Night and Day" is a trapeze-wired waltz that shuffles along on a broken accordion and Mogis' starlit Wurlitzer. In three dizzy minutes, it makes you uncomfortably familiar with the forlorn vagrants that populate Kasher's world. "You're No Fool" adds to this circus-tent feel by combining a lonely saxophone line with a bar-soaked piano, painting a dark tale of exes incapable of losing former lovers. The strong, almost insolent saxophone returns you to Kasher's ability to wallow in sorrow without sinking under its weight, the redemption of the past through its seemingly insufferable passage. Here, Kasher again reminds one of his kinship with Algren, as the track would have fit perfectly alongside Elmer Bernstein's jazz score for the film adaptation of The Man with the Golden Arm.

On "Inmates"-- the one track where Kasher allows someone else to voice his heartache-- Jiha Lee steps in without missing a beat to add a seductive, mesmerizing shyness. Atop a soft acoustic guitar, distant bongos and tingling electronics, both Lee's voice and the epic track build before Kasher turns the song into a duet and electric guitars grind out the transcendent ease. By the time "Inmates" ends with Lee's pronouncement that "she can"t be your prisoner," the song seems to have packed an entire relationship's worth of tempo shifts and transgressions into its 9-plus minutes without ever sounding bloated.

The complaints with the album are worn-in with old caveats, namely the "emo" tag. Those unfamiliar with Kasher's songwriting could mouth that forbidden word after the album's initial sad-eyed glance. One might hear the hysterical strains of Ben Gibbard or Chris Carraba in Kasher's reckless emoting. But remain calm and it will pass: The vibrant productions and transient lyricism will pull you through that knee-jerk response. Kasher has turned his pissings and moanings into grand, translucent tales that typically avoid the isolation of self-indulgence (occasional slip-ups like the sugary bleating of the title track to this year's Lovers Need Lawyers EP only prove how adeptly most of the album is handled). He might tell you otherwise, but like Isaac Brock, he knows that it's tough to live like Bukowski. Instead of seeking spirituality in pocket-change or San Franciscan street-grime, he's after the sudden comprehension gained from nights spent alone and stories that translate the open pitfalls of the heart.
Album of the Year

Album of the Year

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Album of the Year

Album of the Year

LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3