Casiotone For The Painfully Alone

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Pocket Symphonies for Lonesome Subway cars (2001), 6.5/10
Twinkle Echo (2003), 6.5/10
Etiquette (2006) , 6.5/10
Vs. Children (2009) , 6/10

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone is the project of Chicago-based singer-songwriter Owen Ashworth. He debuted with the cassette Answering Machine Music (1999 - Tomlab, 2002) and the CD Pocket Symphonies for Lonesome Subway cars (Tomlab, 2001), orchestrated for voice and electronics. The childish singalong We Have Mice sneaks its way through three electronic instruments: a beatbox, a synth repeating a poppy refrain and an organ emitting sloppy drones. Caltrain Song adds a neoclasical flavor to the prepuberal tone. A more adult singer surfaces in Casiotone For The Painfully Alone In A Green Cotton Sweater, with a church-like organ and a funky beat, and Lesley Gore On The Tami Show, with the delicate touch of an easy-listening ballad. The brevity of the songs does not allow Ashworth to fully express his musical talent, (for example, the digital garage rave-up of Yr Boyfriend is a great idea that ends in 55 seconds) but he leaves the impression of being a Jonathan Richman for the digital age. At his best he delivers heartfelt tales of ordinary madness sung in a plain voice against new-wave kind of distorted keyboards Suitcase In Hand, Bus Song and Destroy The Evidence The most daring piece is Oh Contessa, permeated with android rhythms and noises.

Twinkle Echo (Tomlab, 2003) marked a quantum leap forward in terms of storytelling (Toby Take A Bow, Roberta C) and melodic counterpoint (To My Mr Smith, Jeane If You're Ever In Portland) that delivered literate lo-fi pop performed with drum-machine and Casiotone keyboards. The sprightly and catchy It Wasn't The Same Somehow is almost surf music or bubblegum pop, and Hey Eleanor has an anthemic keyboard riff. The new-wave-style philosopher has become much more serious and profound (Artic Room). The composer has obviously learned quite a bit in song construction. The noisemaker is still alive, as heard in Casiotone For The Painfully Alone In A Yellow T-Shirt, but no longer in control.

The songs were further fleshed out (and longer) on Etiquette (Tomlab, 2006), that introduced a fuller sound and a real band. The counterpoint of electronic/digital instruments and acoustic/electric instruments has the curious effect of juxtaposing a slightly futuristic vision and a slightly retro vision. The contrast lends the song a unitary theme. The protagonist of Ashworth is little more than the every teenager of rock'n'roll but the arrangements squeeze his persona between the urban and the rural, the tradition and progress, yesterday and tomorrow. The anxiety that the (tentative) lyrics are often unable to deliver is easily demonstrated by the music: the hypnotic spleen of New Year's Kiss, the dejected tone of the gallopping Young Shields, the melancholy postcard of Cold White Christmas. At times he even sounds like a sober Tom Waits. The mainstream is around the corner, though: the synth-pop polyrhythm and evocative guitar of Nashville Parthenon only need a decent crooner, while the pounding techno beat of Scattered Pearls is already blessed with a memorable rigmarole a` la Erasure; and Love Connection returned to the early childish style with the sound of the mature songwriter.

The use of live instruments is even more prominent on Vs. Children (Tomlab, 2009). The stories have acquired a cinematic dimension that was missing from the early confessions, and that cinematic dimension also translates into a broader sociological fresco. The music is still desolate and subdued, but Killers, Harsh the Herald Angels Sing and Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm embrace more than just self-pity.

Advance Base Battery Life (Tomlab, 2009) collects singles and rarities released from 2005 to 2008.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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