Reviews

Novena on a Nocturn

Author: Stanton Swihart, ALL MUSIC GUIDE
11/10/2000 | Better Looking Records | Album Review
Essentially a solo project for Cursive's Tim Kasher, albeit with plenty of instrumental help from a variety of friends, the debut album from the Good Life is the culmination of 12 years of songwriting outside his full-time gig. Those 12 years must have been filled with some great bygone LPs and a fair helping of woe, because instead of the '90s indie pop of Cursive, Kasher explores stark and angular ground on Novena on a Nocturn that recalls no one more so than the Brit-pop icons of the 1980s. The dour and miserable sentiment of the Smiths and the Cure ("The Competition" would have fit perfectly on Disintegration) bleeds into the detached and alien sound of synth-pop combos like Human League and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, with the lush, melodramatic theatricality of new romantics Soft Cell and Ultravox draping over each song like a wet blanket.

These are pure coffeehouse and cabaret tunes with a sustained atmosphere of haunting, world-weary ache. In addition to their '80s forebears, the songs explore the timeless songcraft and painfully honest life-lessons of artists such as Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, and Scott Walker. The music is minimalistic but also cleverly layered with intriguing sounds, particularly eerie keyboards and bits of electronics. It is sweeping, intense music with volumes of emotional resonance and a tragic undercurrent. Kasher's songs are inconsolable prayers of lament and resignation, intimate and almost painfully introspective without exactly being overtly insular. And yet there is an overwhelming sense that you are eavesdropping on a two-way conversation with Job-like epic proportions.

As the title suggests, the album has nearly religious connotations, and its nine 'novenas' delve into all the shadows and blue hues of nighttime. Dark and icy imagery spots nearly every tune, and even when a subject like the sun is referenced, as on the final "Golden Exit," there is something cold and insidious and wintry about its appearance, as if nothing can thaw Kasher's anguish, nothing can break through the bleakness of his worldview. Novena on a Nocturn, after all, is not about the light; despite the cleverly ironic band name, its purpose is to exorcise all those personal demons that seem to travel in the darkness listeners' own individual darknesses.


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