Maybe songwriting doesn’t come easy to Tim Kasher. With an even dozen releases sprinkled across the last 15 years between his bands Cursive and the Good Life, as well as his solo material, he makes it seem that way. But his prolific output has always been a bittersweet pill to swallow, what with so much hellish introspection, so many broken hearts and such a defeatist disposition. It’s for these same reasons he’s one of the most revered post-rock songsmiths from the late ‘90s Omaha explosion. With his sophomore solo album, Adult Film, Kasher plays roles both familiar and newfound.
Ever ballyhooed for his hyper-literary foci on song fodder as far-reaching as evangelism, infidelity and twins separated at birth—and especially, maybe, for his seething early Cursive material, which dwelt on deteriorating relationships in darkly veiled fits of fury—Kasher capitalizes on his crutch for clever turns of phrase while expanding his aural arsenal even more so than on watershed releases like The Ugly Organ and his debut solo album, the quasi-orchestral The Game of Monogamy.
Opener “American Lit” begins with one explosive disaster of a chord, rung out by converging organ, guitar and driving drums. “I’ve got a story to tell…” starts Kasher, as so many of his other albums have led you to expect. “I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’s funny as hell,” he continues, bleeding a sort of rarified humility into a typically stout lyrical palate. This, then, is a snapshot of Kasher being as reflective as he warned in Burst and Bloom’s “Sink to the Beat.”
Kasher goes on to bemoan the stigma of the modern writer in America, of which he is most definitely an avid practitioner having penned plays and, doubtless, short stories throughout his recording and songwriting career. He appears preoccupied with the impediments of his own literary ambitions, commenting on the insistence of the American novel as a driving force in the world for its messages of overcoming adversity and dreaming big while living small. Regardless of his self-doubts, or his tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic rearview glances, the ongoing art project that is Kasher’s fanciful self-evidence has never sounded so (gasp!) fun and happy.
On “Truly Freaking Out,” Kasher comes across downright jovial, even while singing, “I know the end is near/I know I worry way too much/I was six years old when I learned to swim, and I was 36 wondering how I sunk.” His obsession with mortality and aging is flung around Adult Film in liberal dollops, even though a clear narrative arc is nowhere near as prevalent as on his past efforts. Thematically, Kasher toes the line of retrospection and even regret, while bandying boundless waves of instrumentation. “Life and Limbo,” in turn, fusses in bouncy, carnival-like spurts, emerging as the album’s most enjoyable listen.
On the piano-led tearjerker “Where’s Your Heart Lie,” Kasher is joined by Laura Stevenson, who bookends harmonies on some of the album’s most satisfying double entendres, like the devil-tongued snippet “When I was good, you wanted lovin’ every morning, now you hardly give a fuck.”
If this is a new avenue of self-loathing for Kasher, it’s a welcome change of form from the perhaps more angular output of his screaming past. His gifts for wrangling emotive detours from unlikely sonic realms is his best talent, but he couldn’t do that without his crafty capacity for language, too. Stripped of the angry adornments of his yesteryears, we now may take him at his word.