Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Casiotone's third album finds the promise of Owen Ashworth's earlier work paying off ever more in spades. Despite a higher profile and a series of concert tours, he's not changing around the basic approach yet -- it's him, his trusty keyboards and machine beats, a guest appearance or two, and his own gift for sweet, murky, and involving songs. His gift for personal details -- an X marked on one's hand for a show, 'driving all night for no reason. . .until the tape's done' -- gets further reflection in many of the song titles, usually referencing some name in particular. "Toby, Take A Bow" is one of his best, portraying 'the greatest Smiths fan' ever with a series of sly references to song titles by said band that actually create a portrait instead of simply being a joke. Musically, meanwhile, Ashworth keeps on keeping on, wistful and warm synth lines mixed up with hollow clatters, and an overlay of enveloping murk that never drowns the songs entirely. It's a fine balance of the merry and the melancholic, as the clipped beats and low drones of "It Wasn't the Same Somehow" and the melancholia turned into an anthem approach of "Hey Eleanor" and "Blue Corolla" show. If one can argue that the Magnetic Fields already covered this ground to a large extent, then the counterargument is that Ashworth has just as distinct a voice -- lyrical and singing -- as Stephin Merritt (as it stands, Ashworth's a clearer and lighter singer in the first place). The most self-referential moment? "Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in a Yellow T-Shirt," a noticeably more clattering rhythm underpinning a calmly sung story -- backed beautifully by a guest turn on contrabass -- about using a summer night to the best one can, even if it's just nothing but 'riding all night under the street lights.