Reviews

Help Wanted Nights

Author: Eric Harvey
09/10/2007 | Pitchforkmedia.com | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
Tim Kasher's 2002 record as the Good Life, Album of the Year, begins with a dive-bar meeting: "The first time that I met her, I was throwing up in the ladies' room stall. She asked me if I needed anything. I said, 'I think I spilled my drink.'" The year of the record's title, and its toll on one particular relationship, was AotY's narrative frame; its 12 tracks flipped by like a time-lapse calendar, from April to April. Gimmicky? Sure. But it worked, by playing to Kasher's interpretive strengths: magnifying the heartrending minutae of romantic relationships, and rendering them gracefully and with a sense of humor.

Compare AotY's opening to that of Kasher's latest Good Life excursion, Help Wanted Nights: "Things are good/ We should take a Polaroid/ A memento, before the moment's destroyed." The preservationist similarities show that Kasher's still interested in examining fleeting, fictional moments and crafting big stories from varying narrational perspectives. But this time, he's trying to capture a world of others' lives in vignette form, fostered by a screenplay he's written that gives the album its title and inspiration. Last April, Kasher told Pitchfork that the film documents "roughly a week in a bar in a small town where a stranger's car breaks down... he fraternizes with the regulars, getting too wrapped up in their sordid lives."

Two consecutive concept albums dealing with boozers and their second homes isn't anything new for Hold Steady fans, but Kasher's mode of storytelling diverges from Craig Finn's in at least one way: He's less concerned with creating character archetypes that allow listeners to fill in the gaps with their own experiences than he is in playing with language. Or, as Kasher himself said, "I tried to focus less on narrative and more on those big ideas."

In keeping with another well-established narrative, Kasher's finished screenplay took him from Omaha to Los Angeles, and Help Wanted Nights often trades in the countrypolitan indie-folk toward which Kasher's pal Conor also moved, especially on the slick, brushed-drum amble of "Picket Fence", "Your Share of Men", and "Playing Dumb". Elsewhere, the sleek, echoing guitars and spacious arrangements lend the record a shimmering lilt not too dissimilar from Rilo Kiley's sole Saddle Creek spin The Execution of All Things. "Keely Aimee", in particular, breezes past with brisk guitars and a gently funky pulse augmenting Kasher's cautious optimism: "Keely, I love your suffering/ Like gravity loves a stumbling drunk."

An authentic move toward country also means that lyrical puns and extended metaphors dealing with love gone wrong are in full bloom. Help's title is explained in "A Little Bit More", when Kasher inquires: "You flipped the sign in your window/ But baby, are you really closed?". During "Share" he offers the solicitation, "You're a fool for the wounded/ I'm a man in need of bandages/ So wrap me up and take me home," and on "You Don't Feel Like Home to Me", he indulges in melancholy: "He sees her face/ In the highway signs/ In the traffic lights/ And she's turning red."

Often referred to as Kasher's side project, and initiated as a dumping ground for his non-Cursive material, The Good Life has taken on an independent existence as an outlet for his more ambitious ideas. Help Wanted Nights finally finds him challenging himself again, imposing constraints and seeing how well he can work within them.
Help Wanted Nights

Help Wanted Nights

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Help Wanted Nights

Help Wanted Nights

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