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Once Domestica had made its mark, Kasher felt free to obsess over his thus-far solo work, which would appear under the name The Good Life. "It was literally years that I was working on it and trying to get that together," Kasher says. "I finally buckled down, bought my own eight-track, and started working really hard on trying to record it. I did all the demos on my own, but once Better Looking [Records] offered to release it, I got some studio time and asked some friends to help me round out some edges."
Kasher's described The Good Life as the outlet for his "coffee house" music, but that descriptor comes up short. The first album, Novena on a Nocturn, is a soft, pretty album of delicately crooned dirges over tinkling keyboards and acoustic strums. Kasher's velvet voice glides through the melodies, his gift for affected phrasing resembling something close to Robert Smith of the Cure. The musicians alongside him are culled from Omaha's estimable talent pool: the Faint's Todd Baechle, Mike and A.J. Mogis of Lullaby for the Working Class, and others -- each track was fleshed out by a different lineup.
After Novena was released, Kasher needed a solid touring band, and eventually recruited the current Good Life lineup: multi-instrumentalists Ryan Fox and Jiha Lee, bassist Landon Hedges (also of Desaparecidos), and percussionist Roger Lewis. Kasher's long-incubating concept had finally materialized, in the flesh.
These are the musicians who rallied with Kasher to produce Black Out, The Good Life's latest recording excursion. Interestingly, the only similarities Black Out and Novena share are Kasher's rich vocals and the beats per minute. Black Out is The Good Life's Kid A, Novena its OK Computer. Chalk it up to the fact that Novena was written over the course of years, while Black Out is a much more immediate creation.
The new album is soaked with drum-machine breaks, electronic squawking, and soaring production (by Mike Mogis, the Midwest's indie über-producer). The morose topics on Black Out mirror Domestica's, but from The Good Life's perspective it's a much quieter sort of bleeding. "I figured it's two bands, so maybe that's okay," Kasher says of the similarity. "Maybe it's not okay, I don't know."
In this case, it's perfect. Kasher illuminates the dark corners of depression and loss. On "The New Denial," behind Joan of Arc-ish bleeps and chirps, he sings, "But Mama called and cried to me/'Baby, your anniversary was last Tuesday'/That's right . . . okay, I guess it slipped my mind." On the cowboy-ish "After O'Rourke's, 2:10 a.m.," he wails, "I hate when you say you need me/You don't need me/I hate even worse that I need you/It kills me."
The album is fluidly conceptual, bookended by two sparse acoustic bits, each titled "Black Out." Like his Chicago-land peers in Joan of Arc and the Promise Ring, Kasher weaves his songs together through their titles: "The Beaten Path" preludes "Off the Beaten Path," "O'Rourke's, 1:20 a.m." preludes "After O'Rourke's, 2:10 a.m." (O'Rourke's is a bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Kasher and producer Mike Mogis spent many of their collegiate nights.)
Black Out is a grand experiment of sorts for Kasher. He's dressed up his raw acoustic melodica in dense curtains of sound via his new fascination with electronics. "I threw a lot of money down on a drum-machine sampler, and I worked really hard at learning how to use it," he explains. "I came up with a lot of rudimentary beats, and those are all on the record, but mostly what you hear are contributions that Mike Mogis made. Basically hearing what it was I was getting at, and with all the equipment he has, he really helped bring that out to where we really wanted it. And now I understand how to do it for the next record."
Despite the album's grandeur, Black Out almost never saw the light of day. Throughout the record, Kasher sings of his frustration with making music; on "Drinking With the Girls," he proclaims, "You thought you had it made/Like the songs would write themselves/But your words ran out of ink/And your fingers lost the chords."
"I think everybody has certain doubts in whatever field they're trying to succeed in," Kasher says. "With Black Out, I was on tour with Cursive when I first got the master sent to me. I remember the first time I listened to it I nearly had a breakdown. I honestly disliked it so much that I was considering not releasing any of it. Any little imperfection just drove me crazy. I really enjoy it now; I'm really proud of what we came up with."