Before I ever listened to the Good Life, I was drawn in by
the disc's cover art.
As night swirls darkly in the background, a childlike figure -- presumably
the Virgin Mary, given the album's title --
sits on the end
of a glowing crescent moon, wrapped in (literally) a blanket
of stars. A
single tear drips from her closed eyes. Mind you, this description
doesn't do the art justice -- indeed, it makes it sound
And perhaps, to others, it might be -- but this simple piece
Geraldine Vo reached out and grabbed me. It creates a
palpable sense of
cold and loneliness, tempered by the simple comforting
relief that only
a soft, warm blanket can bring.
Cursive's Tim Kasher is no stranger to cold and loneliness,
as anyone who's
heard the last Cursive album can attest. The songs on
Novena on a Nocturn
address similar concepts -- pain, disappointment, failure --
but the music
is very different. These are the songs Kasher wrote "on the
side" over the
course of more than a decade, songs that didn't fit the
They're gentler, quieter and more intricately orchestrated.
Notice that I didn't say "more personal". I don't think
Kasher is capable
of impersonal lyrics. Every song reflects his anguish, his
alienation and his
inability to connect with others. If a song ends on a bittersweet
note, we're actually hearing Kasher at his most upbeat. This is one
On paper, some of his lyrics come across as pompous and clumsy; how
could you sing lines
like "It's like stabbing an icicle straight through your
chest" or "I'll sleep
alone until the longing burrows a hole straight through my
sternum to make its home"
with a straight face? But like so many writers and poets,
Kasher knows the twists
and turns of his words better than any reader, and from his mouth the lyrics ring
The music completes the package. Quite unlike Cursive's
all-out assault, Kasher's
rotating cadre of collaborators provides a modest but
enveloping mixture of piano, guitar,
strings and drumming. It's carefully and lovingly
orchestrated, but never threatens
to swell beyond the intimate confines Kasher has created.
The percussion often sounds
looped and/or processed, adding an additional sense of
otherworldliness to the music.
But what's most surprising here is that the moody pop
arrangements work with Kasher's
full, falsetto-ish voice, revealing a modest vocal
similarity to the Cure's Robert
Smith -- another guy known for singing about loneliness and
isolation. It's abundantly
obvious in a few places, but none more persuasively -- and
gorgeously -- than on "The
Moon Red Handed". Really, this song alone justifies owning
the album, though "What We
Fall For When We're Already Down", the faintly Michael
Pennish "Your Birthday Present"
and the haunting "Waiting on Wild Horses" offer further
riches. In this context even
the occasional strained and off-key vocal performance, typically an
emo "signature", isn't objectionable -- and it doesn't happen very often anyway.
Seriously, check this record out. It will surprise you. It
will engross you. And
if you're remotely susceptible to the lure of the cover art,
it will envelop you.