Review Summary: Tim Kasher is still unhappy.
The Good Life released their follow-up to 2004’s masterwork, Album of the Year, on the ominous date of September 11th. For those not familiar with the band, they are Tim Kasher, of Cursive fame’s, indie side project. The band resembles Saddle-Creek labelmate Bright Eyes, in that the band focuses primarily on Kasher and employs a flexible roster of other musicians on their recordings. Many fans would have assumed this album to be an impossibility, due to the always threatened temporary existence of the group and their large gaps between releases and tours. Thankfully, they were wrong and the band deliver one of the better indie releases of the year.
Just as the aforementioned Album of the Year, Help Wanted is a pseudo-concept album. The featured songs serve as a companion piece to a recent script Kasher wrote of the same name, he is quoted as saying in an online interview “I kind of liked the idea of writing songs to [exist] more as ideas that complement something else that was written. I tried to focus less on narrative and more on those big ideas”. This is where the album differs the most from their previous work. This is evident in Kasher’s lyrics, more is implied rather than stated, leaving more open to interpretation by the listener. The influence of late, great author Charles Bukowski is evident in the album, much of the album deals with drinking in bars and drifting from place to place. Even down to the cover, a sketched image of a bar.
Help Wanted opens with the line “Things are good, we should take a Polaroid”. However, knowing Kasher’s often morose subject matter, we know this isn’t the case at all. Sure enough, a minute later he’s asking for someone to pour him a drink. The song’s chorus “either you love me or you leave me, don’t leave me on this picket fence”, makes me, as a fan, pleased that Kasher and co. haven’t left us. The album continues in much of the same formula as their previous releases; a successful blend of indie and folk, as well as having a large country influence. Don’t let that be a deterrent, the subtle mix of these genres has been perfected over the groups last two releases and perfectly compliments Kasher’s forlorn tales of love and loss.
The first single taken from the album, Heartbroke, clocks in at under two minutes. This is a vast departure from their previous album’s extended dwellings. The track carries an almost reggae influence in its guitar work. Although this is a first for The Good Life, this encapsulates the true beauty of much of their work; dour lyrics and sentiment over music that borders on upbeat, much in the vein of The Smiths or Belle & Sebastian.
The standout track for me is the slow-paced Some Tragedy, the line as “as I slept, I dreamt of Romeo & Juliet. But Romeo was just playing dead”, encompasses everything there is to love about this album. The brutal honesty and passion behind the words, coupled with Kasher’s scathing witticisms paint a vivid portrait.
The album works as a whole, each track complimenting the one before it and giving further insight to the autobiographical character portrayed. The concluding track, Rest Your Head, is the longest on the album, effectively putting the story to bed and creating a sense of closure.