I knew I was in for a serious throwback as soon as I heard that Tim Kasher, the frontman of indie rock bands Cursive and The Good Life, would be releasing a debut solo album early this month. After all, the last time I was listening to bands like that was also about the same time I was keeping a LiveJournal account with “horrible teenage poetry,” “mis-dubbed subtitles” and “vegan alternatives” listed under my interests (unfortunately not a joke).
But The Game of Monogamy
, scheduled for release on Oct. 5, is not Kasher’s first solo effort. Kasher formed his band The Good Life in 1995 as a vehicle for him to experiment with music aside from the distinctive sound of Cursive, his main project at the time. But as The Good Life evolved into its own composite group, the result was two characteristic sounds — Cursive is coarse and grittier while The Good Life, despite retaining the same incisive lyricism, comes off more indie-pop and radio-friendly.
Admittedly, I’m always skeptical of solo efforts, but even pessimism aside, The Game of Monogamy
simply doesn’t measure up to Kasher’s earlier works, nor does it produce a singular, defining sound like his other projects do.
The album opens with an instrumental track entitled “Monogamy Overture,” fusing orchestral sounds like harp and other strings for a strange, ethereal quality that threatens discordance. The next track is just as bizarre, subjecting listeners to awkward a capella segments of Kasher’s trademark, often off-key voice. Throughout the rest of the album, he meshes together dissimilar sounds, throwing together upbeat trumpet melodies with hand-clapping, acoustic guitar with what sounds like muted screams in the background.
Despite this attention-grabbing blend of noises, the result doesn’t quite hit creative genius and instead falls somewhere around merely awkward-sounding most of the time. Kasher succeeds with a few tracks, like “Cold Love,” which is pleasantly harmonious and features a catchy melody, but most of the album likely won’t register in my memory. The overall sound doesn’t set itself apart as hard as it tries, and the lyrics are also sub-par — not as caustic as with Cursive, but not as funny as with The Good Life, either.
Kasher wrote most of the songs on Cursive’s 2000 album Domestica
in the midst of a sordid divorce, and the lyrics are clearly dripping with raw emotion — on “The Martyr,” he bitterly wails his accusations, “your sorrow’s your goldmine, so write some sad song about me, screaming your agonies, playing the saint.”
In contrast, some lines from The Game of Monogamy
, like “I hate myself when you’re around, but I’m here right now, back in the house as you cuss me out” on “The Prodigal Husband,” sound trite and uninspired. The diluteness of his lyrics cause his emotions to feel affected, and you can’t help but wonder why a 36-year-old Kasher is still singing about memories from high school in the first place.
Kasher firmly established himself in the indie rock scene during the past two decades, but this solo album, which was meant for him to explore new sounds he wasn’t able to with his other projects, seems to be more of a regression than any innovation. Just as Kasher’s solo album doesn’t really seem to be anything new, Cursive’s last release in 2009 also felt like a watered-down version of former indie glory, indicating an unfortunate trend.
Perhaps this is a tragic loss that we must all share as our favorite indie rock pioneers from back in the day grow out of their youthful torment. After all, even BFF Conor Oberst seems to be producing fewer tears these days — just look how far he’s come since the high-pitched, whiny shrieks of Commander Venus, one of his earliest bands.
But if it’s a just a result of the singer being all grown up now, its still an ironic contrast that sadly harkens back to “Art is Hard” from Cursive’s 2003 album The Ugly Organ
, in which Kasher himself sardonically sings, “we all know art is hard ... keep churnin’ out those hits, ‘til it’s all the same old s---.”
— Contact Catherine Cai.