[22 July 2004]
Tonight the drinks are on Tim Kasher. On one condition, of course: that you listen to what he has to say, keeping in mind he has plenty on his mind to warrant a second band.
You see, the Good Life began as a side project for Kasher; his day job has him fronting Cursive, another Omaha, Nebraska-based band (and Saddle Creek labelmate). Lovers Need Lawyers, the band’s new six-song EP, is bereft of the drama and weighty importance typically associated with Saddle Creek releases; its dark humor and witty wordplay add curves to its thin frame. It is worthy of as much attention as a Cursive release, even if you thought otherwise. The Good Life is now officially its own band, with a distinctive songwriter and sound.
Kasher comes off like the smartass at the bar, entertaining the bored bartender and patrons nursing tall boys with joke-ridden encapsulations of a scorned life, topics including:
1. The hometown. You can’t escape its centripetal pull, no matter what city sounds a siren song. “Leaving Omaha” is the definitive barstool sermon on the inevitable stifling lull of the hometown. Kasher notes the prospects of a stint in college, a friend in Denver, and a lover in Portland—all of which fail to permanently displace him from the Midwestern magnet: “Looking round at my classmates / Ready to disown them / My bags were packed, I was ready to leave / For university / I was moving up and down / Out of Omaha / It didn’t last”. The band captures Kasher’s defeatism with a hazy wash of rugged Americana swagger; their momentum builds, swelling to crescendos of release, only to be reduced to the sputtering afterthoughts of Kasher’s disappointment.
2. The faux artist. One can envision Kasher placing his beer on the bar to give himself full reign of wild hand gestures while mocking wannabe artistes: “I’m not a writer / I’m a kid with a guitar / And a notebook of scattered thoughts / Hum a tune, strum the blues, write some cryptic words / Whatever works to get you to the next verse”. “Entertainer” sneers a lip at the guitar-toting troubadours of banality; Kasher sees through their act, and with deadpan humor cuts them down. The band launches the song like a turbine-propelled paper airplane, covered with scribbles of contempt. It’s a full-blown pop sucker punch, cocksure and catchy, delivered with a kind of jocular nausea.
3. Divorce. What would a bar-side tirade be without the mention of love and all its infectious inadequacies? Lovers Need Lawyers’ darkest song is its title track, a minor key sing-a-long that bubbles with the bile of early Costello. “Lovers need lawyers”, Kasher instructs in his lazy deep voice. “All that I’m screaming’s being held against me / You’re judge and jury / So hang me for all I am worth / Better or worse”. Kasher views love and marriage as inescapable evils (topics that he explored in depth on Cursive’s The Ugly Organ and Domestica), intended as partnerships but often reduced to solo struggles of endurance (note the song’s staccato keyboard reference to Nilsson’s “One”). “I could never take another’s hand / It’s to you I’m condemned”, Kasher admits in near-gleeful resignation during the song’s outro, the band elevating its martial rhythm to sunny pop heights. Elsewhere, in the piano-driven, impossibly peppy “Always a Bridesmaid”, support for Kasher’s argument is offered in the story of a girl who optimistically longs for love against overwhelming odds.
4. Pent-up sexuality. After a few beers, humor begins to take a backseat to disbelief and irritation, spawning tales of barhopping in search of an outlet for all this frustrated tension. “Friction!” is such a tale, the one song on Lovers Need Lawyers that breaks the EP’s easygoing pop stride for a two-minute blast of swirling hotheaded urgency. “I want to make your acquaintance / To escort you, to be your gentleman”, Kasher coyly croons, before resorting to carnal desires: “I want to rub up against you / Like those scoundrels, like those wolves do”. The verses are a blur of images, like squinted eyes scanning a crowded club of bodies and movement; the chorus, a manic shout of the title word, burns like the Pixies at their most riled. “Friction!” purges harder and faster than the EP’s other offerings, and it’s this reason alone that sets it apart as the red-headed stepchild of the bunch.
5. Eventual acceptance of one’s place in the world, even if said realization fails to live up to contrasting expectations. “For the Love of the Song” is the EP’s last call, a six-minute epic on resignation that gradually moves from a folky strum to a sprawling anthem. Sweetened by touches of saxophone, pensive slide guitar, and soft keyboards, “For the Love of the Song” ends Lovers Need Lawyers with a boost of sardonically laced emotion: “So you can never drop this drunken bit / And the fits of pain you still stomach / It’s for the love of the song”. The band fires on all cylinders here, sending the song into heady garage oblivion, riding one of the slowest fades in recent memory, impact made and points rendered.
Lovers Need Lawyers finds the Good Life distancing itself further from its trademark gloomy vibe with 20 minutes of stripped-down, acoustic-tinged rockers (the EP is described as a teaser for the band’s new full-length, due out later this summer). The music bounces easily this time around, ironically masking songs about disillusionment, divorce, and disgust with poppy choruses and sprightly verses. Kasher, who has often been compared to the Cure’s Robert Smith, exploits a biting wit that has much more in common with songwriters like Randy Newman, Ben Folds, and Ray Davies than any mascara-smeared moper. It’s a terrific new beginning for the Good Life; not exactly a reinvention, but more like veering off an expected path.
The Good Life is now the smart-alecky runt of the Saddle Creek family? Cheers to that.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/goodlife-lovers/