Reviews

Album of the Year

Author: Monika Bustamante
10/25/2004 | Rocket-fuel.com | www.rocket-fuel.com | Album Review
It's fine, I'll admit it openly - I am biased. There's something about Tim Kasher's brand of love/loathing/letter/lyric writing that appeals to some part of my own damaged psyche. Three full-lengths into The Good Life, he's still addressing the same subjects, and with a similar mix of distaste and shame and regret. We are given deeply personal insights into relationships that are at turn, very appealing and nearly nauseating.

Album of the Year, a typical play on words for Kasher that here seems to double and even triple itself (and allows for some really fabulous artwork), seems to chart the progression of several things: one, a distancing from the relationship that seems to have spurred much of this musical endeavor, as well as Kasher's real-or-fictional pattern of dysfunction with women; two, a few relationships he's experienced in the interim, some obviously much more significant than others; and three, an ongoing fascination with his own psychological make-up, and what is learned from months of drinking and abuse.

The carnivalesque feel of Cursive's (Kasher's other band) last record is felt at times here, muddying the line between the two bands more than ever (Kasher has said that The Good Life is his vehicle for lyrical narrative, but if the distinction he's making is based on lyrics alone, the point seems near wasted). But in addition to swirling organs, we're given congas, pedal steel, jangly piano, horns - any number of more eclectic musical inclusions, that at turn make the record feel, even in brief flashes, like a 20s barroom (You're No Fool), a western saloon (Under a Honeymoon), a sideshow tent (Night and Day), and various other sources for ready drama. In fact, the contributions of a score of musicians, both regular band members like Roger Lewis, Ryan Fox, and Stephanie Drootin as well as guests like Mike Mogis and Jiha Lee, undeniably share ownership of the record's musical ambition and success.

Album of the Year is not without flaw. In fact, there are a few songs on this record that, after giving them their fair due, I now forward past just to spare myself their embarrassment: "October Leaves," with its 1980's prom-feel and cloddish lyrics; the title track of the album's EP, "Lovers Need Lawyers" embarrasses a little with its awkward phrasings and forced cleverness even when it pleases with its catchy melodies; and possibly worst of all, "A New Friend," which is the musical equivalent of low-grade 80's Echo and the Bunnymen, with a jarringly obvious guitarline, and the lyrical equivalent of a 10th grade note left in an ex-girlfriend's locker.

However, the songs on this record that work well, work so well. Any time I worry that Kasher is either too flippant or takes himself too seriously, I'm again reminded that the best clowns are secret tragedians. Songs like "Notes in His Pockets" and "It's Not You" reveal a more comprehensive view of fractured romance, as well as simple and elegant melodies. Jiha Lee's guest vocals on "Inmates" range from awkward to soothing to wrenching, and around and around. The music is lovely and subtle, building to a climactic and satisfying swell, adding in Kasher's vocals in a very interesting twist on (revealing and psychologically intelligent) lyric and intent. The title track, as well as "Needy," and Kasher's self-professed album favorite, "You're Not You" are strong and balanced aural blends, as well as being lyrically and vocally smart. "Two Years This Month" sums up, musically and in words, how much and how little all of the experience of a year (or two) can mean in relation to its supposed cause.

That's the thing. Love and lack of love and loss of love - they're messy and imperfect and embarrassing. We can relate to them to whatever point our experience, or lack of it, allows us to. Maybe what makes this record so satisfying is its no-holds-barred confession, its earnestness, its awkwardness. A sympathetic listen allows a touch of forgiveness as well as absolution.


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