Playlist: Art is Not Hard – 15 Classic Tim Kasher Songs

Tim Kasher has been a mainstay of the Omaha scene for nearly 25 years, heading up caustic indie-rockers Cursive and the more literal The Good Life, as well as collaborating with everyone from Bright Eyes, Planes Mistaken For Stars and Thursday.

He’s also a solo artist of some repute and, having just released the excellent ‘No Resolution’ – his third solo outing – Already Heard decided to take a journey through his extensive back catalogue to pull together a rundown of 15 essential Kasher classics (after all, the new Cursive-run record label is called 15 Passenger…), as well as an all-killer playlist for your listening pleasure.

Please note, due to Kasher’s unbelievable work ethic, we’ve left off the big hits; if you don’t know the likes of ‘The Martyr’, ‘Art is Hard’, ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Big Bang’, you should rectify that immediately. You will, however, find them on the playlist…

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Cursive – ‘Adapt’ (taken from ‘The Recluse’ B-side)

If you want proof that Cursive were truly inspired during the making of ‘The Ugly Organ’, look no further than the haunting ‘Adapt’. Originally a B-side to ‘The Recluse’, it’s a sombre moment that finally found a home on the extended issue of ‘The Ugly Organ’. It still sounds out of place against the more frenetic moments of the album – but it shows Cursive at their moody best.

Tim Kasher – ‘American Lit’ (taken from ‘Adult Film’)

OK, so ‘American Lit’ does not make this list for the bizarre opening 20 seconds, but it makes it for the wonderfully brilliant off-kilter pop that follows. “I’ve got a story to tell,” opens Kasher, making a tip of the hat to his raconteur persona. Riffing off the creative process – this time making film scripts and taking ideas to the silver screen – it’s a knowing nod to the trials and tribulations experienced during the making of The Good Life’s ‘Help Wanted Nights’.

The Good Life – ‘Entertainer’ (taken from ‘Lovers Need Lawyers’)

“I’m not an artist, I’m an asshole without a job,” quips Kasher on ‘Entertainer’. The issue of art and its creation is a topic Kasher comes back to frequently, with the equally excellent ‘Semantics of Sermon’ and ‘Art Is Hard’ both elaborating on this theme, yet ‘Entertainer’ feels like Kasher is playing up to the idea, tongue firmly planted in cheek. That it appears on The Good Life’s ‘Lover’s Need Lawyers’ just emphasises the blurring of the boundaries between Kasher’s acts.

Tim Kasher – ‘Half Full’ (taken from ’You Be Me For A While’)

Taken from a Record Store Day split single with Chris Farren, which saw Kasher and Farren write one song each, before recording their own version of each other’s songs. Kasher’s ‘Half Full’ is a gorgeously sparse number that includes a clever call back to ‘A Gentleman Caller’ off the ‘The Ugly Organ’.

Cursive – ‘Hymns For The Heathen’ (taken from ‘Happy Hollow’)

One thing Cursive have always done well is the self-referential tying of loose ends. ‘Hymns for the Heathen’ harks back to ‘Opening The Hymnal’, the opening track of ‘Happy Hollow’. That it subverts proceedings by using a jaunty and infectious melody, set to some sharp Biblical imagery makes it a typically winning example of Kasher’s razor sharp song-writing.

Tim Kasher – ‘I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here’ (taken from ’The Game of Monogamy’)

Considering his reputation as a prolific songwriter, Kasher wouldn’t release his first solo album until 2010, finally sticking his own name to the excellent ‘The Game of Monogamy’. Arguably one of Kasher’s most upbeat songs musically, ‘I’m Afraid I’m Gonna Die Here’ is a charming number, armed with a fabulous horn section that carries the song along wonderfully, before an abrupt change of pace when Kasher muses on the idea of love.

Tim Kasher – ‘Messes’ (taken from ’No Resolution’)

Lifted off Kasher’s latest solo album, ‘Messes’ is another galloping Kasher classic, filled with a rich string section, some sharp horns and a feisty tempo. Another concept album, of sorts, it’s hard to tell if Kasher is narrating a story or revealing some deeper thoughts from his psyche. It’s this tightrope which Kasher walks throughout ‘No Resolution’ that makes it such an enjoyable – and insightful – album.

The Good Life – ‘Off the Beaten Path’ (taken from ‘Black Out’)

“Tim, I heard your album and it’s better than good”, muses Conor Oberst on Bright Eyes’ on ‘Nothing Gets Crossed Out’ (off 2002’s ‘Lifted’), and he’s referring to ‘Black Out’. ‘Off the Beaten Path’ is a companion piece to ‘The Beaten Path’ and is surely one of the most epic songs in Kasher’s canon. From the introduction that just builds to the point of breaking, to Kasher’s introspective, almost stream of consciousness lyrics it’s an early high point for The Good Life.

Cursive – ‘Sucker and Dry’ (taken from ‘Sucker and Dry’)

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine ‘Sucker and Dry’ could have ever been penned by Cursive. Lacking the finesse of the group’s later output, it’s raw and serrated indie-punk/post-hardcore that has more in common with the likes of WaxWing or Knapsack than it does with the archetype Saddle Creek sound. Unsurprisingly, it predates Cursive’s time on both Saddle Creek and Crank! – yet it remains a pulsating early cut from the embryonic band.

Cursive – ‘The Cat and Mouse’ (taken from ‘I Am Gemini’)

Falling on the ambitious ‘I Am Gemini’, ‘The Cat and Mouse’ is Kasher at his storytelling, freewheeling, best. While the concept of ‘I Am Gemini’ makes it difficult for songs to stand out on their own, ‘The Cat and Mouse’ is a huge amount of fun, driven by Kasher urging the protagonist to “kill your doppelganger”. For that alone, ‘The Cat and Mouse’ deserves your attention.

The Good Life – ‘The Competition’ (taken from ‘Novena on a Nocturn’)

Before The Good Life became the full band project it is today, it started as a solo project – again blurring the lines between the various Kasher vehicles. ‘The Competition’ is a surprisingly stripped-back solo number, with Kasher’s roughhewn vocals coming to the fore. Released in 2000 – the same year as ‘Domestica’ – it serves as an introspective counterpoint to its histrionic cousin.

Cursive – ‘The Great Decay’ (taken from ‘Burst and Bloom’)

Falling between Cursive’s two landmark albums, ‘Burst and Bloom’ serves as the bridge between the bleakly dark ‘Domestica’ (2000) and the explosive ‘The Ugly Organ’. Lyrically, ‘The Great Decay’ sticks closely to the former, yet possesses the wild-eyed hunger of the latter – and it’s stupendously brilliant.

Cursive – ‘The Radiator Hums’ (taken from ‘Domestica’)

Taken from ‘Domestica’, Cursive’s first foray into the ‘concept’ album, ‘The Radiator Hums’ sees Kasher writing from the female viewpoint, an issue oft-overlooked when dissecting the heavy emotional themes of ‘Domestica’. One of only a handful of songs on this list that could be described as adhering to the ‘classic’ Cursive sound, if you like this, you have a whole world of wonder in store…

Cursive – ‘When Summer’s Over Will We Dream of Spring’ (taken from ’Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song’)

Another early Cursive cut, this time off 1998’s ‘Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song’, the group’s full-length Saddle Creek debut. It possesses all of the hallmarks that would go on to mark Cursive out as scene favourites. The stabbing guitars and regimented drums pulsate, but it is Kasher’s gnawing wail that truly grabs the attention.

The Good Life – ‘You Don’t Feel Like Home To Me’ (taken from ‘Help Wanted Nights’)

In classic Cursive fashion, remember when we said at the start of this article about the trials and tribulations of ‘Help Wanted Nights’, but then left you hanging? Here’s the payoff. ‘Help Wanted Nights’ is a companion piece to a Kasher-penned script that was sold to an indie production house before disappearing from trace. Anyway, ‘You Don’t Feel Like Home To Me’ is the standout; a sad sorrowful guitar line complements a rolling drumbeat and Kasher’s descriptive vocals in beautiful scene-setting fashion.

‘No Resolution’ by Tim Kasher is available now on 15 Passenger Records.

Tim Kasher tours the UK from March 24th:

24 The Shacklewell Arms, London
25 The Boileroom, Guildford
26 Think Tank Underground, Newcastle
27 King Tut’s, Glasgow
28 The Brudenell, Leeds
29 Studio 2, Liverpool
30 The Portland Arms, Cambridge
31 Hope & Ruin, Brighton

Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)

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