The Game of Monogamy opens with an aural banana peel in the form of a very ‘90s Disney orchestral intro. The well-intended red herring builds for nearly two minutes before breaking into an incredibly strained, bleak vocal from Tim Kasher—frontman of acclaimed emo acts Cursive and the Good Life—a vocal that turns out to be the chorus. And an awfully grating one at that. The lyrical content mirrors this discomfort, as Kasher adjusts his twentysomething discontent to his coming middle age. Both his ideas and the ways he tries to communicate them sound a bit egotistical and unsociable. Because of his delivery, you come away from listening feeling Kasher is either trying a little too hard to put on a face, or he takes himself entirely too seriously these days.
Like most Kasher-helmed projects, The Game of Monogamy is a loose narrative about becoming an aloof adult. The subject matter in many ways mirrors the grief-stricken nature of The Ugly Organ. The instrumentation, however, is more closely related to the recent Cursive efforts, with thick saxophone and other brass powering multiple parts of the record. There are some new wrinkles to the Kasher sound, too, like “Strays”. The song will win points with the locals for name-dropping Jackson Street, but the delivery feels all too familiar to “classic”-period Bright Eyes. Most of the songs on The Game of Monogamy are pretty pop-oriented, though, so despite some grim subject matter a lot of the album has more snap and classic FM radio traits than most of Kasher’s previous work.
All too often, Kasher’s harsh vocals are just not up to par here, though. He was never going to win any awards for straight-up vocal chops, but never before has his voice felt so ill-suited to deliver certain vocals. Never is it more apparent than “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost”, which sounds like Nick Cave doing an awfully tongue-in-cheek parody of Yoni Wolf. Not only are the lyrics awkward in an off-Broadway kind of way, but Kasher comes off as pathetic in a way that makes me wish he’d just set the mic down rather than empathize with him. And while “No Fireworks” proves Kasher is continuing to diversify his production oeuvre, it stirs an equal amount of doubt as to Kasher’s ability to write interesting songs anymore.
There’s not a song here that feels useful outside the context of another chapter in Kasher’s discography, and thus ultimately doesn’t seem likely to inspire much emotion outside of the core Saddle Creek crowd. If this teaches us anything, it’s that Kasher is at his best when his ideas are being bounced off of others, tweaked into the services of a band rather than his vision alone.