w/ Minus the Bear and Moving Mountains. $19.50 advance, $22 day. Doors open 6:30 p.m., Sept. 22. The Webster, 31 Webster St., Hartford, webstertheater.com
Tim Kasher knows the finer points of notebook purchasing and usage. When buying a new one — as he does for every record he writes — it's almost always spiral-bound and college-ruled (the latter "so it's not such fat lines"). When putting together a song that ends up running over a page, Kasher hesitates to move forward. Instead, he writes along the page's margin and top so as to keep everything confined in one space — a holdover from his teenage days playing coffee shops and being unable to flip pages of lyrics. When he discards something he's written, he strikes a soft mark through the line because he believes it's important to know what you were writing before you changed your mind. "I think this is kind of a funny conversation," Kasher — a genial, honest, self-deprecating and mumbly interviewee — says. "Really, I'm only entertaining you because I have such interest in notebooks so I don't think these questions are actually that absurd."
Paper has long been as important a canvas for Kasher as plastic. As the front man of the Omaha-based Cursive and a solo artist working under The Good Life and his real name, he's undoubtedly one of the greatest lyrical voices in indie rock, even if he hasn't and likely never will deliver a big, fame-trapping hit. One of the several peaks of his writing is "The Recluse," which appeared on Cursive's 2003 record The Ugly Organ. In it, a frail-sounding narrator sings of waking in a dismal sanctuary — "a woman's room I hardly know" — where inertia pins him down. Said woman is a black widow sucking the life (maybe more) out of this pathetic, docile protagonist. "My ego's like my stomach/It keeps shitting what I feed it/But maybe I don't want to finish anything anymore," Kasher whines. The music is macabre, spare and morose, making the track a legit masterpiece of scene-setting.
Years later, Kasher and company are still aiming upward with ideas. Like The Ugly Organ, Cursive's seventh and most recent release I Am Gemini (which, by the way, was written in a light blue notebook) is a concept record. It's an allegory-heavy play revolving around the reunion and destruction of twin brothers Cassius and Pollock, who have roots in Greek and Roman mythology. There's death, betrayal, provocative visuals ("Crusted bloodstains down the nape of my neck/Concussed rhythms swelling in my bed") and grand existential laments — all ground that Kasher's touched before. He's desperate, insecure and self-aware in the best way a writer can be, but he doesn't allot too much thought as to why conflict and peril play such major roles in his work. "Maybe it's as simple as that when it comes to music, it's those things I'm more interested in," he says.
The structure of I Am Gemini, whose sound carries a shimmering psychedelic fullness and the teasing staccato movements Cursive have long loved, is particularly fascinating. Kasher delivers all the lyrics as dialogue from his small cast of characters, making it imperative to have liner notes available to coordinate character and conversation. He's worked on and off in other forms such as short stories and (unproduced) screenplays but displays greater reluctance in discussing that work versus his music. The concept traces its origins back to Kasher and singer/guitarist Ted Stevens having ongoing conversations about dualism and multiple personalities, which eventually led Kasher into the idea of Gemini. Although he says the setting is supposed to be "incidental," Gemini's play begins with a reference to an automobile accident. In his head, the scenery has the "non-time" feel of the Uma Thurman/Ethan Hawke sci-fi flick Gattaca.
While I Am Gemini represents a conquest for Kasher, since it has gestated in his head for "a really long time," it's a failure from another perspective. In an interview after 2009's Mama, I'm Swollen came out, he said, "We don't want to be labeled as a band that only does concept albums. I think that some people have still found this album to be highly conceptualized," which means Mama's follow-up doesn't do him any favors in that department. Kasher reveals little about his upcoming solo record (this time, his notebook is yellow), but he does say one thing, which he follows up with a small chuckle. "All I can really say is that yeah, as of right now, I'm approaching it as not being a concept record."