Tim Kasher is awesome. I knew that he would make it onto this list either in Cursive or The Good Life. Though I am a bigger Cursive fan, I felt that Album of the Year was his masterpiece. AotY is one of the best concept albums I've ever heard. It's a simple yet very relatable concept.
The album spans over the time of a year in a relationship, rise and fall of, with each of the twelve songs standing for a month of the year. Beginning in April, the protagonist (Kasher probs) meets his girl, who happens to be a bartender. The story progresses as the two fall into a comfortable and codependent relationship until suspicions of adultery arise ("Notes in His Pocket"). The girl confronts him and asks "Are you cheating on me?" at the end of "October Leaves". Kasher defends himself in "Lovers need Lawyers". She gets fed up and leaves him declaring that she "won't be [his] prisoner" ("Inmates"). The story wraps up in the aftermath of the relationship after she has found "A New Friend" and moved on, while Kasher is probably still boozing at home.
The album has folk influences and rings out that Saddle Creek sound. This can be credited to being produced by Saddle Creek Records' heavy-hitting producer, Mike Mogis. The songs blend perfectly into the next as far as theme and sound goes. A nice ensemble of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and percussive instruments hints at an appalachian folk album early on, but then stirs into dreamy accordion waltz numbers like "Night and Day". Some songs develop a wily and cluttered sound (not bad at all) and then blend back into quiet more moody numbers. "You're Not You" taps into a feeling we've all felt before. The song deals with the harsh realization that a loved one changes over time to suit his or her company. The sweet cadence and soft strummed guitars really pave the road for the point to get across here.
"Inmates" is one of the most epic songs I have ever heard in my life.The song is around 9 minutes long and somehow manages to never get boring. With female guest singer Jiha Lee taking the vocal helm, the song expresses the girlfriend's frustrations and boiling point when deciding to leave Kasher. Starting with just a softly picked acoustic guitar, the song develops into a duet with soft-spoken Lee and harsh-sounding Kasher over an ensemble of instruments. The end of the song reaches an incredibly cathartic climax of violins, guitars, drums, mandolins, and vocalists (including Jenny Lewis) crying out "I won't be your prisoner". This song has had the hairs on my neck on point for years now.
While many Saddle Creek records have been a big part of my younger years, AotY is the best piece of work to come out of Omaha. Listen to it from start to finish. Truly an inspiring album musically and lyrically.