I’m supposing that Tim Kasher, lead vocalist for both Cursive and The Good Life, felt there were enough albums about the institution of love. Because there are. What more can be said about falling in/being in love except for mutations of the word “boo” or technology references like “Beep me” that will be hilariously outdated before the end of the decade.
But the idea of examining the nitty-gritty – Netflix and sweatpants and tupperware and toilet paper directional preferences (over the top, or you’re a Communist) and weird collective habits – hasn’t really been done at length, largely because it doesn’t make for the best songwriting in the world.
I mean, it’s nice and warm to hear, “I want to open my eyes to you every morning until I die.” Unfortunately, “Please don’t leave the dishes out overnight, now we have roaches, and also can you pick up my dry cleaning” is hard to sell and isn’t sexy.
So this concept of looking at the down-and-dirty of an LTR (and how it can lead to destruction) has become something of an idée fixe for Kasher. The Game of Monogamy is his first solo album under his own name. It’s an expanded look at the inner workings of a couple after their initial period of infatuation and proclamations to only kiss each other, as they enter periods where they no longer tick off the months they’ve been together, begin to get forgetful as they settle in for the haul, or discover new, unsightly things.
It’s a difficult record to take in – there’s no two ways about that. Anyone, male or female alike, who has been in a lengthy relationship will commiserate with many of the sentiments that Kasher expresses over the course of 10 tracks and an overture. It alternates from dark humor to visceral musings and back again, sometimes within a line or two.
As heretical as this will sound, there are times when I just don’t pay attention to lyrics. It might be par for the course for loud, angry music or fuzzy, synthy jams or shoegaze or whatever, because the words aren’t always intelligible. Other times, I’m more in tune with the music than what is being said.
Here though, Kasher is clear and composed, despite the increasingly crumbling wreckage in front of him. In doing so, he’s crafted some of my favorite TK lyrics to date, across all his various projects.
Monogamy opens with a stringed overture, and segues into “A Grown Man,” which speaks directly to the theme of the record, setting low his figurative bar:
I am a grown man,
How did this happen?
People are gonna start expecting more from me,
But this is all I am.
On the next track and the album’s best, “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here,” there’s a delicate refrain where he writes:
But love makes you lazy,
You don’t ask questions anymore.
You settle into the furniture,
Collecting cobwebs on the porch.
It’s bleak, but only in the way that it’s something that so many people have experienced but never hear about in music. Later in the song comes what may just be my favorite Kasher line (aside from where he proclaims “I got a job writing obits, a professional writer, at last.” Perfection!). He stuffs a lifetime of memories into a line, only to turn it on its head:
And when the orderlies steal our wedding rings,
Do they even care what stories our bands of gold could tell?
You said, “Baby, you worry so much about dying,
You forget to really live.”
Well, maybe so.
Now tell me who you’ve been with.
What begins as a sweet and poignant line is dashed by the pangs of deceit in a way that needs to be felt personally in order to understand the full ramifications. No one in a relationship wants to find out the details of infidelity, but the juxtaposition of the symbolism of wedding rings with the jealous rage one feels after hearing the words “I cheated on you” or “I slept with someone else” is all at once intense and agonizing.
On the single “Cold Love,” the Omaha native explores the sexual dysfunctions of a committed couple who have lost the spark, spiked by the lines, “Cold love, it only takes a few minutes. Cold love, let me know when you’re finished.” It’s a necessary buoy for an otherwise desolate record, as the track is fun in sound despite its lyrics.
The two most jarring songs on the album are notable for wholly different reasons. “Surprise, Surprise” sounds like a Cursive b-side at just over a single minute. It’s the most abrasive track on the album, deconstructing after a twiddling piano opener. I thought I might have received a bad copy of the song because it ends so abruptly. Punk rock.
It’s followed by “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost,” a terrifying and frigid look at the realities of the time period after the point when someone has been broken up with for a while – that transitional point in time when that person isn’t as broken, but still as vulnerable. It opens with the lines:
I’ve become obsessed with my high school year book.
Teenagers peering with wondrous eyes.
Through the lens of what they’ll become,
Their unfulfilled lives of marriages, mortgages
Maybe I am becoming too marginalized
It’s these kind of lyrics throughout that make me want to give this person, be it Tim or whomever, a hug. Further into the song, Kasher laments:
I wanna have sex with all my old girlfriends again.
I swear, it’s just the familiarity I miss.
Ah, fuck it. It’s just typical male conquest.
You know, the world don’t revolve around your prick.
Just ask your old girlfriends.
This kind of scathing, brutal honesty runs rampant throughout Monogamy. It’s just a treasure trove of despair, and I’m certain TK had to be tapping into a vein of experience to be able to divulge so cleverly. The inclusion of strings on a few of the songs gives the record a certain cinematic quality, which frames the narrative in such a way that I felt like watching a relationship from hopeful beginnings to falling apart before my very eyes in under an hour.
The album closes on “Monogamy,” which does its best to sum up the resounding motif of the record via a story of high school football nights in a small town, and attending the 10-year wedding anniversary celebration of some close friends. Within the context of the story, Tim (or the main male character) walks in on the celebrating wife crying on the phone and asking, “How long can we keep up this charade?”
The line from the song that sticks with me most is, “Most nights we stay in, practicing our monogamy.”
TK has such a commanding grasp on articulating isolation and despair. I just hope that when he actually does feel love and comfort, that he doesn’t piss it away just to be able to write his songs.
Look for his second solo album, Adult Film, later this year on Saddle Creek Records.
From Tim Kasher’s debut album The Game of Monogamy, this is “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here” –
Standout tracks: “A Grown Man,” “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here,” “Surprise, Surprise,” “There Must Be Something I Lost,” and “Bad, Bad Dreams”
Weakest track: I was going to say “Strays,” but after repeated listens, I better understand its placement on the album.