“Self-absorbed” isn’t how you typically describe good art, or good people for that matter, but Tim Kasher has made a nice career for himself as an exception to that rule. Whether in the guise of Cursive’s caustic, thrashing emo or the perpetually evolving Good Life’s intimate confessionals, Kasher and the central figure in his songs have often seemed like the same guy: someone all too aware of his own flaws but almost entirely unsympathetic; someone condemned to doomed relationships who’d likely still be miserable without anyone else’s help. As he states on The Game of Monogamy’s “Strays”, “writers are selfish, writers are egotists/ I’m afraid I’m as bad as it gets”– and that’s this record’s love song.
After Kasher’s 2003-04 career peak (Cursive’s The Ugly Organ, the Good Life’s Album of the Year), his musical horizons and themes broadened. And although Kasher had proven to be a master of self-immolation, when tackling Big Topics, his flame only burned lukewarm. As the title of The Game of Monogamy indicates, Kasher’s back in his wheelhouse of pain, rendering married life in such suffocating and punishing terms that even the most militant Proposition-8 opponent will think, “we’re fighting for this?” It’s probably the most typically “Kasher” theme possible, but musically it also serves as a compendium that reconciles his two main projects. Awkward Baskin-Robbins/ sexual dissatisfaction metaphor aside, “Cold Love” is Kasher at his most power-pop, with the sarcastically neurotic “Bad, Bad Dreams” not far behind. On the other end, the delicate acoustic picking on “Strays” makes it sound like a heartbreaker, even if the wearied contentment of finding love amidst lost souls is the closest he gets to happiness. Between those two poles are the bandcamp orchestration you’ve come to expect from Saddle Creek– the upbeat brass pomp of “I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here” comes off as totally sarcastic considering its lyrical misery, while the strings of “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost” throw Kasher even deeper into despair.
Even so, as with most of Kasher’s work, the main draws of Monogamy aren’t really musical– words always get prominence over melody. Simply put, if you get a spark out of idealizing your romantic failures by doing things like drunkenly Googling ex-girlfriends (as he does in great detail on “There Must Be Something I’ve Lost”), listening to Monogamy as a whole is like dousing yourself in gasoline. There’s little poetry in Kasher’s poisonous lyrics, he barely even bothers to rhyme them, and he’ll ignore meter altogether if it means getting the last word in. But his directness can prove to be a bandage-ripping rush that gets the core of feelings that are repressed only to reveal themselves uglier than ever. “I am a grown man/ How did this happen? People are gonna start expecting more from me,” is the first line Kasher sorta-sings and from there on out, it’s something like if Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was written by Grinderman, middle-class, middle-age anxiety filtered through a prism of psychosexual panic.
As cathartic as it can be, a big reason that Kasher’s never pitched a perfect game can be chalked up to how the accumulative effect of his unyielding cynicism feels like self-fulfilling prophecy: Though “No Fireworks” is the ninth song on Monogamy, by that point, it feels like the 10th song about how committing yourself to one person will inevitably result in an unsatisfying sex life. Still, if you want to take yourself to the edge of emotional catastrophe while maintaining a safe distance, Kasher’s got the best shit in town: I’m always hesitant to use the term “guilty pleasure,” but I’ll stop short and suggest that the pleasure that Monogamy provides is at the very least unhealthy, a controlled substance that packs less buzz with each use and that Saddle Creek should at least have put a warning on saying “do not combine with alcohol or listen to while operating within heavy relationships.”
— Ian Cohen, September 30, 2010