Tim Kasher’s oeuvre as one of Saddle Creek’s brightest (excuse the pun) songwriters has always been helped by his deeply personal bent. At some point, Kasher started writing songs about writing songs (see “Art Is Hard” from The Ugly Organ, the 2003 album from his other band, Cursive) and decided to try his hand at more fictional fare. The first was “Sierra” from The Ugly Organ, in which Kasher laments a daughter he’s never had the pleasure of knowing. That song still elicits comments from fans about his being a father. Of course, he isn’t a father, at least not anymore than he is a songwriter that dabbles successfully in fiction.
Whether the play that shares its name with the Good Life’s fourth full-length, Help Wanted Nights, is a work of this new writing methodology remains to be seen. If Album of the Year (2004) was intensely personal and Cursive’s Happy Hollow (2006) was overtly fictional, then the screenplay/stage play/whatever that Kasher supposedly wrote in between these albums could be pureblood, half-blood, or no blood at all.
Whatever the score is on Kasher’s basis for songwriting these days, his trademark bitterness in matters of the heart remains ever present. On the first single, “Heartbroke,” there’s all the suffused sarcasm of a relationship gone wrong — not exactly untrodden ground for the sultan of Saddle Creek, for sure — with an alarming ferocity and despair: “Yeah, I’m sure your heart is breaking, too.” Along with the other standout track, “A Little More,” it makes the subject of inspiration moot, because regardless of who he’s writing about, it’s still the same landscape you’d expect to find on a Good Life album, replete with Kasherian figures, social claustrophobia, empty promises, and bitter rejoinders.
That the Good Life’s sound has changed throughout every album is nothing surprising, really — Cursive has refined and redefined itself on nearly every album, after all. What is surprising is that no matter how many times Kasher returns to the sick, black well from which his songs spring, the conviction and originality of his newest slants never waivers in quality. The fresh, more-fluid-and-less-conventional style of the album helps, no doubt, to color these old subjects with new nuances. Help Wanted Nights lacks the cohesion of Blackout or Album of the Year, but it seems excusable to have a loose collection of songs — good songs, at least — that accompanies an as-yet-unseen movie or play, especially in the wake of the super-cohesive Happy Hollow. However, Help Wanted Nights is not an album in need of excuses.