For those of us in our mid 20s, it may seem like Tim Kasher has been thrashing around forever over issues of responsibility and commitment—at least since the overwrought chamber drama of Cursive's Domestica, where grownup issues were handled with adolescent fatalism. Ten years later, as kids weaned on his band's music begin to face these kind of adult problems themselves, Kasher's solo debut finds him plugging away at these same themes, without any appreciable increase in sophistication.
In the early years of the aughts, Cursive and Bright Eyes acted as Saddle Creek's hysterical standard-bearers, shaping searing, often-whiny angst into high-concept packages. Efforts like Lifted and The Ugly Organ were tortured howls tailor-made for teenage consumption—wry, angry albums which made a spectacle of their callowness. In the years since, Conor Oberst has at least made a cursory attempt to grow up. Kasher, who's material seemed beyond his experience in his mid 20s, now finds himself sounding a little too old for this kind of uncertainty, bemoaning the trials and tribulations of monogamy as if he hadn't been over these topics before.
Rather than progress, he slinks off once again into concept-album territory, presenting the institutions of marriage and suburbia as hollow constructs to be superficially explored. Just as 2006's Happy Hollow attempted to fake development by tackling issues of politics and religion, The Game of Monogamy employs intellectual embellishments, but little actual content. Trying to sneak in the back way, it establishes an air of seriousness through string sections and instrumental suites, even as Kasher flails about melodramatically on songs like "A Grown Man," noting that "a grown man's got a big responsibility."
It's at times shocking how off-key the album actually is. The music switches between dry and histrionic. The lyrics are flat and repetitive. The horn section, which takes over various songs, roundly flubs its parts, at worst sounding like an unpracticed third-wave ska band, at best like a bland Sufjan Stevens rip-off. Weak all around, The Game of Monogamy clearly defines the difference between a niche and a hole.