Having more or less set the template for emotionally charged indie rock over the past decade or so, it’s unsurprising that Tim Kasher’s first solo effort tackles themes of love, frustration and resentment. The driving force behind both Cursive and The Good Life, The Game of Monogamy is Kasher’s first work under his own name and fans of those bands should find themselves in familiar territory. Other Cursive members even pop up, as Patrick Newbury assists with production and Matt Matt Maginn appears on drums.
Thankfully, The Game of Monogamy is not an album of stripped down Cursive songs that didn’t quite make the grade. While the band’s last record Mama, I’m Swollen was decent, there was a sense that Cursive were cruising and perhaps running low on creativity. There’s no such feeling here, and Kasher sounds rejuvenated by the addition of dramatic brass and string arrangements. Lyrically too, there’s a noticeable return to form. Although the record’s conceptual look at a stale and failing marriage is not exactly out of Kasher’s comfort zone, this thematic focus brings out some of his best writing in years.
Setting the tone are the two ominous pieces of orchestral pop which bookend the album. Firstly ‘Monogamy Overture’, which is full of sadness in its prominent string section building towards a stormy, theatrical climax. This song is later resurrected and extended on album closer ‘Monogamy’, which is no more hopeful after Kasher has added some words. He bemoans his loss of freedom and a social life with great telling details and an engaging storytelling style. Kasher’s trademark cynicism is rife throughout almost all of the record, exemplified here by a faux slip of the tongue, snidely remarking: “at least there’s a mortgage over our heads, oh no, roof is what I meant to say”. These moments of bitterness and frustration are mostly outweighed by an overwhelming sadness, not just of missed opportunities, but also of desperately wanting to mature and commit to a partner he once loved.
While this could easily have been a miserable and depressing listening experience, the record is lifted by some lively and uplifting instrumentation. This first appears on ‘I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here’ (song titles are not helping my argument), an album highlight that is aided by joyful blasts of brass offering an interesting juxtaposition to the song’s theme. A similar trick is utilised on lead single ‘Cold Love’, with its plucky guitar riff playing contrast to another song about monotonous marriage rituals. Although this is by no means an optimistic record, it never feels like a drag, thanks to these striking and memorable arrangements.
If lacking a little in variation, The Game of Monogamy builds a detailed relationship profile evoking great melancholy and empathy for both central characters. There are no great surprises here in terms of lyrical content, but few contemporary songwriters do misery as well as Tim Kasher. So far into his career this record might easily be overlooked, yet given the chance it’s both a moving and rewarding listen.
8Kyle Ellison's Score