"The first time that I met her, I was throwing up in the ladies' room stall."
Tim Kasher has a way with tossing off lines that sound like personal reminiscences, but which trigger a reflexive "I've been there," or at least an "I can imagine that." The phrase above opened Album of the Year, a disc by Kasher's Omaha, Nebraska-based band The Good Life. Kasher is probably still better known as the leader of another group, Cursive, one of the first and best of the so-called "emo" bands. In both settings he combines confessional lyrics like the one I quoted with catchy hooks that linger well after the record ends. In an article I wrote for Time Out New York in July 2004, I described the effect as "candy apples filled with shards of broken glass."
Kasher's work was a relatively late discovery for me, but both Album of the Year, which details a failed relationship from reckless start to wracked finish, and Cursive's The Ugly Organ, which depicted the cheap one-nighters and alcohol-drenched oblivion that flooded into the wake of a nasty divorce, are among my favorite recent rock records. (They're both on the Saddle Creek label, founded by former Nebraskan and fellow overachiever Conor Oberst.) In shorthand, Cursive favors dense, ornate arrangements while The Good Life prefers leaner textures. Both bands have lately delivered records that could be called concept albums, but might once have been deemed song cycles.
The Ugly Organ was understandably a hard record to follow, although for me Album of the Year was just as strong. This week, Cursive finally delivered a follow-up, Happy Hollow. Talk about conceit: Kasher practically demands that the disc's 14 tracks be reckoned as parables rather than songs...which is probably to be expected, given that the Red State grip of organized religion bubbles at or near the surface throughout much of the disc. In my review, which appears in the current issue of TONY, I wrote, "On Happy Hollow, Kasher turns his gaze outward, offering a fractured-mirror repudiation of Our Town bonhomie in 14 songs that depict a community stifled by shattered dreams and religious repression." (The complete review is here.)
I caught Cursive at the Bowery Ballroom during my unintended sabbatical from blogging this summer (although I did post a few thoughts about the show near the end of this post), and was thrilled to discover that the group really can duplicate the emotional impact and instrumental force of its records onstage. Between songs, Kasher was gabby, loopy and slightly awkward, in an incredibly endearing way. The devotion of the audience was understandable, but impressive in its specificity: With the release of Happy Hollow still a month away, fans called out for favorite songs from the disc throughout the show.
I might be fighting that same urge myself on Friday, September 1 at Joe's Pub, when Album, the Monterrey, Mexico-based quartet that I've raved about here several times, plays its first-ever New York City show. I feel an almost paternal sense of pride that this group was selected to participate in this year's Celebrate México Now! festival. (Which also has me pondering my role as a now-highly visible advocate for musicians of various stripes in this city, but let's not go there right now.)
With every bit of objectivity I can muster, I'll state once again that, like Tim Kasher, Album has been among my most deliriously happy discoveries of the past several years. But I don't really feel any need to further urge my fellow New Yorkers to attend; I can simply point you to the band's website, from which you can download pretty much everything they've ever recorded, free of charge, and let them do all the work themselves. Start with "Es Facil" from their latest album, Microbricolages, and don't miss their first album, Eureka Sön, which I hyperbolically yet unabashedly once suggested might be Mexican alt-rock's "Paul's Boutique or OK Computer -- maybe both."
But enough about me: Mwanji Ezana of be.jazz renown has posted a spectacular review of artsongwriter Corey Dargel's debut CD, Less Famous than You -- a thoughtful, colorful and detailed analysis I'd be giddy to have written. Do not miss it.
Red Sparowes - Every Red Heart Shines toward the Red Sun (Neurot; due Sept. 19)
Giacomo Puccini - Suor Angelica - Victoria de los Angeles, Fedora Barbieri, Orchestra del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma / Tullio Serafin (EMI Classics)
Isis - In the Absence of Truth (Ipecac; due Oct. 31)
Bob Dylan - Modern Times (Columbia; due Aug. 29)
Melvins - (A) Senile Animal (Ipecac; due Oct. 10)
Butthole Surfers - Double Live Bootleg (Latino Bugger Veil)
Squarepusher - Hello Everything (Warp; due Oct. 17)
Ruggiero Leoncavallo - Pagliacci - Lucine Amara, Franco Corelli, Tito Gobbi, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala Milano / Lovro von Matačić (EMI Classics)