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
The brevity of the songs does not allow Ashworth to fully express his musical
(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
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
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
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
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
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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