Cursive may have just played the Glass House last week, but Tim Kasher's other band is another beast altogether, trading meaty punk for warm and fuzzy Americana. Four albums in, the Good Life have mellowed to the point where Kasher's ragged vocals and writerly lyrics have taken center stage. The story-songs are now full-fledged stories, and unlike past albums, the new Help Wanted Nights fits together to form a bigger storyline. But don't worry: Characters still stumble in and out of scenes drunk and disheveled, wearing their flaws on their sleeves. They're also soaked in as much pathos as beer, which helps.
Whether you look at Good Life songs closeup or from afar, Kasher's lyrics are soul-sick wonders that play affectionately with language. "Some Bullshit Escape" and "You're Not You" have the skillful depth of, say, Stephin Merritt or David Berman, only less detached and more earnest (...but please don't say emo). And the career high "Inmates," a nine-odd-minute duet with Jenny Lewis, breaks hearts in a way all its own, building from slow and weepy to big and buoyant.
Despite the increasing strength of the Good Life's quartet of full-lengths—Novena On A Nocturne, Black Out, Album Of The Year and Help Wanted Nights—the best place to start is still 2004's Lovers Need Lawyers EP. There's a wild-eyed range to it, from the scrappy punk of "Friction!" to the woozy barroom twang of "Leaving Omaha" and the piano-twinkled thump of "Always A Bridesmaid." And Kasher's never been more self-aware as a lyricist, mocking himself openly on "Entertainer" and thinking aloud about the songwriting process on "For the Love of the Song."
It's a perfect primer for everything the Good Life is capable of, nearly putting Cursive to shame—not that you have to choose between the two bands or anything. There's plenty room in your heart for all of Tim Kasher's songs, no matter who he's singing with.