Music News

Breakup Songs

This story, like so many in the music press lately, begins in the unlikely creative haven of Omaha, Nebraska.

Omaha is home to the incestuous Saddle Creek stable of bands, which includes Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes and Desaparecidos, the Faint, and Lullaby for the Working Class, as well as the protagonist of this piece, Tim Kasher, and his bands, Cursive, and The Good Life.

Though the musicians in Omaha have labored in relative anonymity for years, recent releases like Bright Eyes' Fevers and Mirrors, Cursive's Domestica, Desaparecidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish, and the Faint's Danse Macabre have received accolades from the music press worldwide. Suddenly, Omaha's bands find themselves in a spotlight comparable to that experienced by Berkeley, California, and Olympia, Washington, in the mid-'90s, as an epicenter of underground talent and hipness.

The next Omaha bomb, The Good Life's Black Out, drops on March 4, the same day the band plays in Tempe, at Nita's Hideaway. It's only been six months since front man Kasher's Cursive released its Burst and Bloom EP, a remarkably short time to switch modes so drastically. Any two-bit head shrinker will tell you that split personalities don't develop overnight, and to understand the dichotomy between Kasher's two equally intensive projects, the complex hard-core outfit Cursive and the subdued melodic band called The Good Life, it helps to study his career's development.

Like many of the musicians driving Omaha's present-day explosion (Oberst, the Faint's Todd Baechle, Saddle Creek Records owner Robb Nansel, etc.), Kasher did time as a member of Commander Venus, a mid-'90s crunch-and-wail emotive hard-core band that released two albums before its implosion. Kasher left the group before its demise, primarily because he had formed his own group, Cursive, with guitarist Ted Stevens.

"Even though I do two bands now, I felt like it was more than I needed to be doing at the time," Kasher says, also pointing out that Commander Venus was more a vehicle for Oberst's developing songwriting skills than anyone else's.

Freshly married and into his early 20s, Kasher set about with his bandmates to create Cursive's sophomore album. Titled The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song, the album was received enthusiastically by both hard-core kids and adherents of the melodic dynamism that was defining emo-core. But at the same time, Kasher was pouring his soul into soft, pretty songs that were nowhere close to Cursive's abrasive squall. "If I remember," Kasher says, "I was married, living with my wife, working on Cursive, but at the time feeling like I wanted to start doing something different. Even back then it was really what ended up being The Good Life."

This compulsion to develop the songs rambling through his mind led him to abandon Cursive. So he broke up the band, and moved with his wife to Portland, Oregon. But the results were unsatisfactory to him.

"That's where I wanted to start The Good Life," he says, seemingly unaware of the double entendre conveyed by the statement. "I had a really difficult time there, not only finding band members, but I wasn't acclimating very well. So we moved back to Omaha for our final . . ." he trails off. This is where it gets painful. He's referring to the final attempt to save his young marriage. He resumes, "We were together another year and a half after that, I think."

Home again, but emotionally wounded by his divorce, Kasher eventually re-formed Cursive after becoming frustrated with the arrested development of The Good Life. "Trying to do what ended up being The Good Life was so difficult, and I was having such a hard time finding band members to really stick with the project, that I just came back to Cursive and was like, I had no idea what a good thing I had, how comfortable it was and how diehard the musicians were. And they didn't give a shit at all, they were happy to play again."

With this new/old channel for his energies to course through, Kasher and Cursive began crafting what would become Cursive's Domestica, a brutally painful document of what goes on behind closed doors in relationships, an examination of the infamously thin line separating love and hate. "Ted [Stevens] and I initially wanted to do something, because Storms was so large and universal in scope, we wanted to do something very small. Very like day-to-day or instance-to-instance. So we came up with domesticated things, domesticated situations," Kasher explains.

Set to complexly timed, angular melodies that rise and crash, whisper and scream, the album is one of the most accomplished efforts in indie-rock/hard-core's history. The fact that it's an obvious reflection of Kasher's personal trauma only makes it more compelling.

Kasher speaks guardedly about his divorce and its role in his music, but the pain is manifest in the lyrical content. When he sings "A little bit closer/Your lipstick is smudged, dear/Here, let me wipe that smirk off" on "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst," or "When you're selfless you're so hard not to adore/When you're selfish, I just love you even more" on "The Radiator Hums," the honesty in his voice is palpable.

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Brendan Joel Kelley