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The Good Life: Omaha, NE's The Good Life returns this summer with their first album in eight years, Everybody's Coming Down. Call it a soundtrack to Man's 21st century existential angst, the album poses cosmic queries, contemplates regrets, questions self-worth, and examines the possibility of living in the moment, when memories are all that we truly take with us. And in some ways, that's the sweet spot front man and lyricist Tim Kasher inhabits: trying to make sense of this world of ours, and how and why we navigate it the way we do.
Everybody's Coming Down moves in a new direction musically and, in contrast to The Good Life's earlier releases, is very much a rock record. It is also the first that truly embodies the band as a whole, more so than any previous album. In blending elements of drummer Roger L. Lewis's love of classic rock, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Fox's chaotic approach to melody, Stefanie Drootin-Senseney's propulsive yet tuneful bass parts, and Kasher's deft, complementary song writing, the band sparked a vibrant evolution in sound. The gentler, folk-driven pop/rock for which the band is beloved remains (sonic sister album bookends "7 In The Morning" and "Midnight Is Upon Us;" "The Troubadour's Green Room"), but it is now mixed amongst guitars lines that unspool in a blaze across songs that hit harder and more viscerally ("Everybody," "Holy Shit"), as well as moments of distorted psychedelia and moody ambience ("Flotsam Locked Into A Groove," "Diving Bell," "How Small We Are").
The Good Life have never been afraid to switch up their sound, refusing to be ascribed as one thing or another. 2000's Novena On A Nocturn - recorded essentially as a solo project by Kasher as an outlet for quieter songs that didn't quite fit with his long-standing band Cursive - was spacious and stirring, glistening with occasional electronic flourishes. 2002's Black Out saw The Good Life grow into a full band, telling tales of drunken nights and capricious lovers over an evocative blend of electronic and traditional instrumentation. 2004's Album Of The Year was the first recorded with the now longtime core band of Kasher, Drootin-Senseney, Fox, and Lewis. Hailed by Pitchfork, Alternative Press, NYLON, SPIN, and Time Out New York, among others, this album left behind any electronic touches as it chronicled 12 months of a doomed relationship - and the attendant complex feelings - through strains of soaring pop. 2007's Help Wanted Nights, conceived as the soundtrack to a screenplay, was a more musically stripped-down affair and presented a bare look at human emotions through characters in a small-town bar.
Following a tour supporting Help Wanted Nights, and save for a handful of June 2010 shows, the band's four members quietly moved on to other projects without officially saying goodbye, but with the confident assumption that they'd come back together again. Then life, as it does, took over: Kasher moved around the US, eventually settled in Chicago, and released two Cursive albums as well as two solo albums. Drootin-Senseney relocated to Los Angeles with her husband Chris, where they had a couple of kids and formed the band Big Harp, which released two albums. Fox moved to Portland, OR, worked on solo material, recorded with label-mate Jake Bellows, and started a tape label, Majestic Litter. Lewis stayed put in Omaha - The Good Life gleaned its name from Nebraska's displaced state slogan - and played with bands Conduits and Oquoa.
Kasher began writing songs for a new album in October 2013, and the quartet - balancing their busy lives and multiple projects - reconvened from July to December 2014 to finish writing what became Everybody's Coming Down. With the help of Ben Brodin in Omaha's ARC Studios, The Good Life started recording in January of this year and finished the album in their respective homes. The band then turned to John Congleton (St. Vincent, Baroness, Angel Olsen, Cloud Nothings) to mix the album at his Elmwood Recording in Dallas, TX, looking to his experienced hand and uninhibited style to maintain and further realize the album's untempered, vital sound.
And vital it is: Everybody's Coming Down might not crack the ever-elusive code to our universal wonderings, but it'll make you think, illuminate a new or alternative perspective, perhaps salve a lonely ache of isolation. Because we are, ultimately, all in this together - forever coming down.
Jake Bellows: After fronting Neva Dinova for more than 15 years which included five full-lengths, a split EP, and countless tours, he packed up his dog and moved from his native Omaha to his girlfriend's hometown of Los Angeles. Two days before he left he recorded 18 demos with musician and engineer Ben Brodin (Before the Toast and Tea, Conor Oberst) at Brodin's insistence. Once in L.A., Bellows got a job installing sliding-glass doors and sold his Les Paul to buy a Datsun pick- up truck.
Though he had no plans to form a new band, he played the occasional solo show, performed with Whispertown, and continued to write songs. In early 2011, an invitation arrived from Omaha's Film Streams Theater for Jake's old friend Ryan Fox (Our Fox, The Good Life), also living on the West Coast, to perform an original live film score. Fox enlisted Bellows and Brodin to collaborate and the trio began to compose and discuss improvisational ideas over long- distance. Since they were all going to be in Omaha and had a long history of playing in each other's bands, Brodin and Fox nudged Bellows into booking studio time to record some of his dormant songs.
Bellows drove from LA to Omaha that November in a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that didn't have heat, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, seatbelts, or radio. They made it as far as Lincoln, NE, before the car caught fire at 4 in the morning. The following night they performed the score to The Adventures of Prince Achmed. They entered ARC Studios two days later for a feverish recording session, arranging and writing parts on the fly with an impromptu band including Heath Koontz (Neva Dinova), Todd Fink (The Faint), Whispertown bandmate Morgan Nagler and other old friends. Committing quickly to intuitive arrangements the band recorded 17 tracks in a little more than a week. They worked remotely on the record throughout that winter and spring, adding overdubs in basements and bedrooms across western North America.
The group reunited in Omaha to debut the new songs at a couple of shows one week the following June. Excited to release the new material on their own terms the band put out a preview EP on cassette, Help, at the end of 2012. The new music is underpinned by philosophical conviction and shaped by an interest in physics, cosmology and mythology. Bellows returned to music with a renewed sense of the intrinsic value of art and its ability to express the commonality of human experience. His debut full-length, New Ocean, offers a mix tape of different kinds of songs hanging out on one record - love songs that are not necessarily ballads despite their introspective gauziness, with left turns into drunk-in-the-sun bossa nova and blue-eyed-soul ruptured by fuzz guitar. Bellows believes that songs change the fabric of the universe through the very frequencies they emit. As such, the record attempts to create the world he wants to see instead of reflect the world that is. "Our theory of the beginning of the universe is the big bang - a sound," Bellows said. "What gave birth to the universe is our one tool that we can change the universe with."