Review Summary: Tim Kasher is Tim Kasher is Tim Kasher. Always.
Tim Kasher and his bandmates in Cursive have been a respected force for thirteen years now in punk circles and, more importantly, indie circles as well. This indie respect is important to consider when analyzing some of Kasher's career choices, including his side project The Good Life and his new solo album, The Game Of Monogamy. The Good Life was originally started as a solo venture for Kasher to record songs that wouldn't fit on a Cursive album. Essentially, The Good Life ended up as an acoustic version of Cursive, mostly because no matter the name of the project, Tim Kasher is still Tim Kasher. Throughout his career, his intensely personal lyrics and the numerous sonic changes in Cursive's sound suggest that Kasher has always alternated between finding out who he is and running from that same discovery.
The Good Life was a moderately well-received project that turned out some good songs, but after a certain point it didn't make much sense. By the time Album Of The Year was released in 2004, Cursive's The Ugly Organ had already been out for a year and had also made some serious waves. The songs were catchier, the production was better, Kasher's singing was more tuneful. Interesting then that there would be another Good Life album when Cursive's music had taken on more facets of a sound that was similar. Even so, Album Of The Year didn't seem out of place in the music scene of 2004. However, six years have passed since then and indie has changed a great deal, even just in this past year or two. The critical floodlights have illuminated folk music especially, with the advent of bands such as The Antlers and Bon Iver (of note is the fact that Kasher also spent time alone in the mountains to write, record, and produce The Game Of Monogamy). Kasher, then, is at a disadvantage in 2010. Being an established musician - especially one that has expressed so much about himself in such personal ways - the best thing he could do at this point was something different.
He didn't. The Game Of Monogamy certainly has its good moments, which isn't surprising considering the name attached to it. But although there aren't any outright bad songs, there are plenty of head-scratchers. Kasher doesn't offer anything new here - not for himself and not for indie music as a whole. As such, there isn't much of a reason to keep listening. The album features some orchestrated parts performed by the Glacier National Symphony, but it amounts to little more than frills and fairy-tale type woodwinds. Horn sections are prominent as well, but you can find that in any Cursive album. And at any rate, the orchestration is completely overwhelmed by Kasher's baffling vocal performance. "A Grown Man" has two sections of a capella
singing and anyone who has heard Kasher's voice knows that it isn't suited for that. "I'm Afraid I'm Gonna Die Here" is bracketed by hand claps, a surefire way to make any song more enjoyable, but the pace of the clapping is so fast and the length so extended that they just feel extraneous and shoehorned. Worse, the lyrics in the song reduce its characters to whiny, shallow caricatures of the people that Kasher has always been singing about. No amount of peppy horns and hand claps can forgive that. His lyrics have always been his strongest suit, and his writing on Domestica and The Ugly Organ still stands up to anything released since. But on The Game Of Monogamy, he is much older yet somehow handling his lyrics in a more immature manner. The discerning eye he displayed on songs like "Making Friends And Acquaintances" and the self-deprecating wit of songs like "Some Red Handed Sleight Of Hand" are essentially gone. More than anything, that is what makes this album such a disappointing release.
It is a frustrating release as well. Everything sounds
nice enough (and with "No Fireworks" he even hits it out of the ballpark), but something about the album just doesn't sit right. The fact is that although the sound is largely the same as his other recent endeavors, Kasher's bite is gone. Ten years after Cursive's landmark Domestica, he's still singing about the same old shi
t in the same old Tim Kasher manner. That is, of course, his defining dilemma. He can change the background noise all he wants, but at the end of the day, his problems are still the same and he is compelled to sing about them. His lyrics have grown increasingly puerile over the years, but never have they been this confusing. The Good Life had its fair share of awkward lyrical passages, and we must acknowledge that Happy Hollow still exists. Mama, I'm Swollen escaped this criticism because Kasher was showing signs that he might be outgrowing who he used to be, especially on "What Have I Done?", one of Cursive's most amazing creations. It is ironic then that Monogamy offers no satisfying answer to the question posed by that song. One has to wonder what the point of this album was. After all, a look at the sidebar of the Saddle Creek Records website shows links for Cursive, The Good Life, and Tim Kasher within a few pixels of each other. At what point does it become ridiculous? While numerous projects should certainly be encouraged in the music industry, when they are so closely related as all of Kasher's, comparisons, fair or otherwise, are unavoidable. And on the ladder of Kasher projects, Monogamy falls somewhere near the bottom rung. The indie game has changed. Without the Cursive name behind him, Tim Kasher is, sadly, not much of a player.