Release Date: Mar 10, 2009
Record label: Tomlab
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic
Owen Ashworth has achieved that most difficult of things – in an impossibly crowed field, he’s carved out a unique and recognisable voice among indie songwriters. Just as Jeffrey Lewis conjures urban neurosis, or Stephin Merritt unrequited love, so mention Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and you’re immediately struck by images of wayward twentysomethings, whiling away their post-college days working in cafes or fumbling aimlessly on the dancefloor. It’s no mean feat, testament to Ashworth’s ability as a songwriter that he has a niche to himself.
According to music label Tomlab, if Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's 2006 album Etiquette was the band's Queen is Dead , then Advance Base Battery Life, a collection of mostly unreleased 7-inch split-singles and compilation tracks from 2004-07, is his Hatful of Hollow. As a Smiths fan, I'm not sure that I would go that far.Unlike Casiotone's other albums, Advance Base Battery Life does not embrace a concept, as it is made up of songs composed over a decade. Yet in some ways, the heterogeneous nature of the release is a strength.
Having released enough singles and compilation tracks to warrant a collection of them, Owen Ashworth pulls them together on the enjoyable Advance Base Battery Life, pure catnip for committed fans but not without interest to those unfamiliar with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's way around understated, enveloping electronic pop. A slew of covers toward the end shows Ashworth's interest in a variety of approaches -- on the one hand there are two covers each of Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon, on the other is a more recent effort, Missy Elliott's "Hot Boyz," done in collaboration with Dear Nora and keeping the original's deep rhythm clip but otherwise transforming it into a very Casiotone-sounding number, down to the static crumble on the singing. But the originals deserve the most attention, with Ashworth's ear for lovely melodies and often striking lyrics about the interactions of life, romantic or otherwise, getting to stand out front and center.
Owen Ashworth, the sole member of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, is an old-fashioned sort of guy. This trait was once embodied by Ashworth’s aesthetic conceit—his decision to use outmoded, battery-powered Casiotone keyboards as his only instruments—though he wisely chose to widen his sonic palette on 2006’s excellent Etiquette. Since rendering his nom de plume at least partially inaccurate (rumor has it that he’s also not quite “painfully alone”), Ashworth has managed to flaunt his antiquated tastes in other ways, most notably by promoting his format of choice.
With a proper release of new songs due in less than a month, you might wonder why Owen Ashworth, the man behind Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, feels the need to release this collection of singles and rarities now. The reason seems to be threefold. The clearest reason is necessity: The 15 songs on Advance Base Battery Life are culled from three years of contributions to split 7"s and compilation albums-- all but two are on CD for the first time here.
As the name implies, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone work in a foundation of minimalist, electronic keyboard patterns and sounds with darkly satirical lyrics, often delivered in a deadpan manner. Advance Base Battery Life is a compilation of pieces recorded between 2004 and 2007, only two of which have previously appeared on CD, from electronic music artist Owen Ashworth, a.k.a. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.