As we celebrate our descent into the great unknown with The Good Life’s recent Saddle Creek release Everybody’s Coming Down, let’s take a few moments of silence to highlight the band’s oeuvre, which has occupied our mixtapes, mix CDs, and mix playlists over the past 15 years.
The Good Life, which was once thought of as the other woman, or Cursive frontman Tim Kasher’s side project, established itself in the early 2000s after the additions of Stefanie Drootin (Big Harp), Ryan Fox, and Roger Lewis. To date, the band has released five full-length studio albums and one EP.
The Perfect Beginning: Despite coming out nearly two years after Novena on a Nocturn, 2002’s Black Out is the first real Good Life album. It’s where the band’s lineup solidified. And it’s where the band’s sound began to modulate from Cursive B-sides to the woebegone Americana that would eventually become the quartet’s identity.
True to its title, Black Out’s 14-track drunk is Kasher’s drinking-to-forget album, spiked with too much autobiographical heartbreak to be disguised as fiction. Throughout the experience, the singer-songwriter finds he’s too intoxicated to navigate the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, as his lyrics skirt acceptance and bargain to no end. The manic-depressive cut “Don’t Make Love So Hard” perhaps most embodies this emotional stumbling (and quite possibly provides the biggest payoff of any Good Life song starting around 3:45).
Lovers Need Lawyers: One’s instantly drawn to the nostalgia-inducing “Leaving Omaha,” but it’s perhaps the final track, “For the Love of the Song,” that is the hero (or antihero) of this 2004 extended-play prequel to Album of the Year. The six-minute confessional reminds the listener that Kasher is still drunk and that the then-30-year-old still finds art hard.
Wolves in Second-Hand Clothing: The majesty of The Good Life’s 2004 magnum opus Album of the Year—mostly agreed upon as the band’s best album of any year—is not in the congestion of sonic embellishments used in past performances, but in its breathability. At its core, this is a collection of campfire songs for which producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) provides the crackling wood, the clicking flashlights, and the zipping tents that give the narrative its irresistible atmosphere.
The album itself is about a year (a punny double entendre not lost on the record’s artwork) that recounts a dissolving relationship in 12 tracks, from April to March. Kasher again, like John Fante or Charles Bukowski, both of whom he mentions in the title track, writes about what he knows best: heartache and art-break. For an optimal performance, experience it in its entirety.
Help Wanted Nights: It’s the album that might’ve made the perfect soundtrack for the screenplay Kasher wrote with the same title. Instead, the band’s 2007 LP is the perfect soundtrack for the “big ideas” Kasher says he neglected in previous narratives. The minimalistic and oft-optimistic songs have an AA meeting air about them, minus the 11th and 12th steps. Just substitute the coffee back to booze. “Heartbroke,” an obvious nod to The Police, is a solid gateway track.
Tim’s Pick: In keeping with the spirit of looking back, I asked Kasher to highlight The Good Life’s catalogue with one song that most defines the band. It’s ironic but perhaps fitting that the self-described cynic chose to stay in the present with “The Troubadour’s Green Room,” from his newest release. After all, that’s kind of what the song, in combination with its co-conspirators, is all about: not taking the present for granted.
“It’s also a representation of how completely odd it is to write and perform music as one’s passion while also attempting to balance it as a commodity,” he says. “I feel as though I love and loathe it in equal measure—perhaps that’s the balance?” Encounter
Visit thegoodlifemusic.com to learn more.