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His Pain is Our Gain: Ben Allen on Tim Kasher’s Monagamy

Posted by November 4th, 2010 No Comments »

Tim Kasher – The Game of Monogamy
Saddle Creek Records
By Ben Allen

Over the last two decades, Tim Kasher has made a career out of holding nothing back.

Lyrical content in his primary projects Cursive and The Good Life is often so brutally honest and introverted it borders on self-absorption. Kasher and the main character in his songs appear to be the same person; a man full of self doubt, aware of his flaws, but unapologetic about sharing them in a public format. Eternally stuck in doomed relationships, this character numbs the pain with alcohol and exorcises his demons through art.

Despite being consistently self-referential, Kasher’s songwriting has evolved over his career. Cursive began as a screamy but melodic emo-core group before gradually shifting to something more polished and rock-oriented. The Good Life, which started as a solo outlet for his singer/songwriter folk balladry, has in recent years evolved into a full band with permanent members. It’s also become Kasher’s outlet to release albums too “accessible” and “pop” for Cursive.

Accessibility clearly isn’t Kasher’s primary objective. In fact, he seems almost embarrassed about the success he’s had so far. Following more than 163,000 sales of Cursive’s The Ugly Organ (2003) and massive critical praise for both that record and The Good Life’s Album of the Year (2004), Kasher had this to say in a 2005 interview: “It’s alright if I never have another album as successful as The Ugly Organ. I shouldn’t have even sold as many copies as I have.”

After touring for a year on Cursive’s 2009 release Mama, I’m Swollen, Kasher isolated himself in rural Montana and began work on his first truly “solo” album. The Game of Monogamy was completely Kasher’s vision; he wrote, arranged, recorded and produced the record.

Not surprisingly, this record is very intimate and personal, detailing his new domestic life and the struggles of “settling down.” The main theme is the hardship of monogamy, but the record also explores the broader range of human emotion encountered in relationships.

On “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost,” Kasher explains marriage in such suffocating terms you wonder why he bothered in the first place. A Grown Man” finds him analyzing his current condition. “I am a grown man, and I don’t know what I want. I don’t want a kid, and I can’t keep being one,” he sings acapella during the intro.

Musically, Monogamy showcases Kasher’s extraordinary gift of songwriting. “Cold Love” and “Bad, Bad Dreams” find the man flexing his power-pop skills, while the gentle acoustic plucking of “Strays” conveys a feeling of melancholy and heartbreak. Several tracks, including “Monogamy” and “The Prodigal Husband” border on Sufjan Stevens-style orchestral pop. The Glacier National Symphony was hired for songs requiring string and wind arrangements.

Listening to Kasher’s misery may not be the most pleasurable experience, but sharing in this songwriter’s cathartic vehicle of expression is quite compelling. It’s almost as if we’re hearing what amounts to therapy for a middle-aged, depressed, confused man. There’s something oddly comforting in this voyeuristic position.

In other words, his pain is our gain. – (7/10)

Tim Kasher performs Saturday, November 6 at The Tractor Tavern with Darren Hanlon and Themes. $10 Advance, $12 Door. 9:30 PM

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