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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

The Good Life

By Ian Anderson
Executive Editor

Friday, October 22, 2004

Tim Kasher, frontman of the much lauded indie-rock bands Cursive and the Good Life -- whose new record is phenomenal -- is growing up. But, he's not growing up in the sense that he's moving on and turning away from his past; he's scrupulously studying the mistakes he's made and is trying to figure out what the hell went wrong.

As a dorky, over-zealous music enthusiast, I felt honored that after years of following the small scene orbiting Tim Kasher, I was able to get an interview hoping to find out where the Good Life's new record, Album of the Year, came from. This self-examining album begins with the retelling of his love life during the past four years. "In the past four years, I've had four one-year long relationships," Kasher said. "I think that's common at this age, just trying to stop around."

Album of the Year's rehashing of past-loves lost depicts both the optimism and, often, disappointment often found in twenty-something relationships. I guess I was always trying to save relationships, trying to work it out, he said. It seems doomed from the start, but you try to hold it together and make it work.

Although the plot of a love story is not the most original concept, the record as a whole provides a deeper analysis of Kasher's frustration with falling in love too much, which keeps the story line moving. The stories are about as age-old as can be, but I don't mind that though because everyone has had to do it, Kasher admitted. It's simple, but it works.

It seems that Kasher is trying to figure out the difference of knowing what you want and knowing what you need. This new level of understanding is told through the entire concept of the record.

In the past, Kasher's songs have all been linked by theme and purpose. But rather than a record being a string of songs bound together by time and place, this record has a story that moves and breathes, and can be interpreted in various fashions, but with the same result in the end (We don't know what we want, but we know we're needy).

Kasher also pushes the boundaries of his own personal writing, shifting from introspective scrutiny, to basic storytelling, which, rather than spelling out how he feels, he shows how he feels. The album has a plot, a beginning and an ending. The strongest themes involved in the story are desperation, adultery and frustration -- all of which are worn openly. These three aspects of the story are represented by an aptitude for falling in and out of love in relationships on their way up and on their way out. Showing how love can be fickle and consistent at the same time, creating a dichotomy only captured by creating a dichotomy in art form. "I've always wanted to write in as many different styles as I could," Kasher said. Many downfalls of writers are that they have one style. If people are done with that style, they are done with that writer. I wanted to branch out into two bands with two different approaches to music.

Kasher's other group, indie-rock outfit, Cursive, has been far more successful than the Good Life, but that doesn't mean Cursive is his main band: "I want to be seen as a writer independently. Whatever I'm writing for is whatever I'm writing for."

This independent writing can be found in his writing process. Rather than writing songs and picking and choosing the few that sound like the Good Life, and the others like Cursive, Kasher writes entire records in one sitting, thus maintaining a strong sense of continuity within the final product. The only difference between playing with Cursive and the Good Life are the people who are involved. A different arrangement of people and as a result the shows are more laid back, Kasher said. We have a tendency to [mess} around more. With Cursive, we've been playing for so long that it's more business, more professional.

Aside from the lyrical content, the record itself is much brighter and pop-ier than anything he has done before. Filled with acoustic guitars and warm telecasters, the record is clean and harmless, appearing to just be the vehicle through which he tells his story. But instead of being just some form of accompaniment, the music is a grand soundtrack. With string accompaniments, horn fills, quiet piano parts and pedal steel guitar, the record feels more like an Elvis Costello record than a record to come out of Omaha. This evidence cries the influence of producer Mike Mogis, who has been the secret-weapon behind a slew of all-star Saddle Creek pressings. These bits of decoration give the record a polished, finished feel that separates it from other folk-rock recordings and from the near-constant comparisons between the Good Life and the Cure.

This influence is also noticeable in the change of percussion. The Good Life's first record, the eclectic Blackout, was timed by manufactured beats with only occasional acoustic drum parts, but now, the percussion section is occupied by tambourines, shakers and at times, even bongos. "I still like working with beats in live shows, but in all the songs on Album, I didn't see a place for them," Kasher said. I didn't want to put them in, just to put them in. Everything was so laid back, it seemed more natural with acoustic drums.

Along with the change in percussion, the energy of this record is also different from any other previous works from Kasher. A laid-back, back-beat feel consumes the record giving it a swaggering motion as opposed to straight-forward rock-n-roll. This energy also serves as a catalyst for the pop-rock overtones that transform each song into a catchy tune with Morrissey-esque, happy music, but often, with dreadfully depressing lyrics, ("We'll laugh until doesn't hurt").

"I have this repetitious cycle of doomed relationships," Kasher said. "I wrote this at the point in my life when I was trying to piece them together." Piecing these relationships together through Album's story moves the one-dimensional characters of the storyline into a broader light leaving the story open to interpretation. And in doing so, provides the opportunity to examine past-love affairs without giving away exactly how he feels about them. Forcing examination of the actions of the actors and actresses in his story, rather than his own.

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