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updated 6/22/2005 5:29:02 PM ET 2005-06-22T21:29:02

I feel like I need to give Tim Kasher a hug.

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Maybe just a pat on the back at the bar. Buy him a whiskey, tell him "Hey, man. It'll be cool. Seriously."

But that's probably a bad idea. First, because he might punch me in the face, and that would hurt. Second, because singer/songwriter Kasher seems to make his best music when he's sad, rejected and drunk. Probably best to leave him be. (Actually I don’t think he’d REALLY punch me. He seems like a very nice person. Tortured, yes. But nice.)

His bread-and-butter band, Cursive, is arguably the cleanup hitter in Saddle Creek Records' potent lineup of home-grown Omaha talent which includes Azure Ray, rock mag cover boy Conor Oberst (a.k.a. Bright Eyes) and No Doubt tourmates The Faint. Matching Kasher's deep self-cutting words and raw vocals with a lurching squall of guitars, Cursive hit its stride with 2000's concept masterpiece Domestica. Not since Dylan's Blood On The Tracks was a relationship and its eventual demise put on display so viscerally or so effectively. Through his eyes, we watched a marriage crumble and the running commentary that went along with it was devastatingly good.

Which brings us to The Good Life, Kasher's "side" project, which has been nearly as prolific as Cursive. Taking his favorite themes of romantic self-immolation and all its beautiful fallout, Kasher continues to weave pretty pictures out of ugly threads. Their third full-length Album of The Year sings like an companion piece to Domestica's open-sore vulnerability. But this time, Kasher uses his "inside voice" to tap the points home instead of piling them into the ground with Cursive’s jackhammer delivery.

Album of the Year is just that; 12 tracks spanning 12 months of love in decay. Amid a swirl of delicate orchestration, our hero croons about loneliness, disappointment and the need to be needed. "Night and Day" is bathed in Tom Waits color, with its accordion lilt and dreamy carnival atmosphere. A slide guitar yawns behind "Under A Honeymoon," as congas trot the listener down a sad pre-dawn beach. "We know the sun is gonna rise," Kasher sings. "We tell ourselves to act surprised/We're confident in our denial/that dark love can be reconciled."

But when they decide to rock out, they do it according to the book of the Beatles, rather than Black Sabbath. "Notes in His Pockets" is a stabbing portrait of last-call infidelity, thrashing around an insistent piano with restrained pop energy. "Lovers Need Lawyers" (previewed on an earlier, bouncier E.P.) wraps up with a catchy-as-hell hook that will be in your head for days. To make something so harsh as “I could never take another’s hand/It's to you I'm condemned” sound so uppity, there are some skillful songwriting chops at work, there.

On second thought, after listening to all of Album of the Year, I think I deserve a hug and a whiskey. A broken heart sounds awful, but The Good Life makes it sound awfully good.

I’m confused. I need a drink.

Check out The Good Life, Cursive and other great bands at http://www.saddle-creek.com/

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