The Good Life began as Tim Kasher's moodier, poppier alternative to his main outlet, the more emotionally explosive Cursive. But Cursive's last album (the conceptually bold The Ugly Organ) sounded smoother than usual, and almost Good Life-like in its debt to The Cure. Kasher narrows the gap further with his latest Good Life projects. Earlier this summer, the band released the rock-oriented Lovers Need Lawyers EP as a warm-up for the spare, arty full-length Album Of The Year, which reprises only the EP's title song. Both discs skip unabashedly through Kasher's well-traveled hall of mirrors, where he sings songs about singing songs, and wonders if he'll ever let go enough to experience an unexamined moment.
Lovers Need Lawyers opens with two consecutive uptempo songs about performance anxiety: "Leaving Omaha" and "Entertainer," the latter of which opens with the line "I'm not an artist / I'm an asshole without a job." Kasher then makes his usual leap into romantic paranoia with the title track, a synth-punctuated, alcohol-soaked trip through the accusations that lie behind every "I love you." A nightclub nightmare set to wrecked punk, "Friction!" highlights the back half of the six-song EP.
Album Of The Year, by contrast, opens on a quiet note with its title song, which begins with acoustic guitar and Kasher singing, "The first time that I met her / I was throwing up in the ladies'-room stall." The song goes on to document a blooming relationship, with a sound that's as rhythmic, hooky, and tossed-off as something by Paul Simon, and with knowing lyrics full of intellectual signifiers like "I was reading Fante at the time / with Bukowski on my mind." The album goes on to pinpoint the varied ways that couples meet and split, in songs as muted as "Night & Day" and as epic as the 10-minute ramble "Inmates."
Album Of The Year isn't as compact or viscerally exciting as the EP that preceded it, mainly because it's not as loud: Songs like Album's "A New Friend" are subtler and more abstract, and less direct about drawing lines between selfishness and sorrow. When mixed together and trimmed a little, though, the result is a year's work on par with The Ugly Organ, which is saying a lot.