CASIOTONE FOR THE PAINFULLY ALONE
ADVANCE BASE BATTERY LIFE
TOM127 | released: 10/02/2009 | LP
via Anost (Europe) via SCD (USA)
01 Old Panda Days (w/ Nick Krgovich)
02 Lesley Gore on the T.A.M.I. Show (version)
03 White Corolla
04 White on White
05 Holly Hobby
06 Lonesome New Mexican Nights
07 The Only Way To Cry
08 It's A Crime
10 Hot Boyz (w/ Dear Nora)
11 Born in the U.S.A. (w/ Concern)
12 Streets of Philadelphia (w/ Concern)
14 Sunday St
15 Voice of the Hospital
From Kraftwerk to Leonard Cohen, The Smiths to Suicide, and Pet Shop Boys to Smog, Chicago's one-man musical army Owen Ashworth a.k.a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - has been bracketed with all manner of illustrious names in the course of his eleven year career. But in collecting the 7-inch split-singles and compilation tracks he released from 2004-7 (all but two of them on CD for the first time), Advance Base Battery Life provides compelling evidence of the singular nature of this industrious film-school dropout's talent.
If 2006's sumptuously accomplished "Etiquette" was Casiotone For The Painfully Alone's "The Queen Is Dead", this is his "Hatful of Hollow" - a selection of formative fragments which add up to an utterly satisfying whole. In expanding his musical palette from minimal battery-powered electronics to include strings, flutes, tabla and pedal-steel, Ashworth has lost none of his miniaturist's eye for detail. And his forensically acute two and three minute character-studies are all the more poignant for their (relatively) expansive new settings.
The journey from CFTPA's brutally stripped-down 1999 debut "Answering Machine Music" to the lavish pocket symphonies of "Etiquette" has taken in all manner of unexpected detours. And Advance Base Battery Life compiles musical snapshots of those drunken get-togethers and maudlin solo road-trips into a vivid and memorable photo-album. Where mumbled aphorisms once plunged into echoing chasms of reverb, now the impeccable electro-pop credentials of "White Corolla" and "Holly Hobby" are established with pristine clarity. And superficially surprising cover choices - Paul Simon's "Graceland", Missy Elliott's "Hot Boyz", and not one but two Bruce Springsteen tunes (each with the power to pluck at the heart-strings of even the most hardened Boss-sceptic) - soon reveal a beguiling internal logic.
It's worth noting at this point that the music of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone has become a much less solitary affair in recent years. This compilation alone contains collaborations with Nick Krgovich (of Tomlab label-mates No Kids), Dear Nora's Katy Davidson, and Gordon Ashworth of Concern (who also doubles as Owen's brother). "Scattered Pearls" vocalist Jenny Herbinson also returns to provide lead vocals on two tracks "Lesley Gore on the T.A.M.I Show (version)" and "White Corolla" (the latter having inspired an animated video by London illustrator Julia Pott which has now become an improbable YouTube sensation, uk.youtube.com/watch?v=z3dUgPvkYnw).
But it's the very particular lyrical and musical vision of Owen Ashworth that's always at the heart of things. And whether you're a newcomer to his morbidly vivacious micro-narratives, or a long-term devotee - hungry for more clues as to how he got from there to here - Advance Base Battery Life is one short sharp shock you'll want to experience over and over again.
Ben Thompson, Observer Music Monthly, winter 2008-9