Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Vs. Children (* * * *)

Great storytellers are a rare thing in music. Granted, you don't have to write narrative-style lyrics to make worthwhile tunes, and just simply writing poetry doesn't make you a musician, but those artists, like Owen Ashworth - known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - who can spin a good yarn in three to six minutes of song are few and far between. Ashworth's latest, Vs. Children, is another fine example of the musician's love of detail and ridiculously descriptive stories of people in all sorts of situations and from all walks of life. The songs continue the broader, more diverse sound of his last record, Etiquette, but they still have a very low-fi, intimate feel to them with plenty of the simple drum machine beats and piano that accompanied his earliest recordings.

Like Sufjan Stevens and others, Ashworth has a love of obscure history, as evidenced by the obviously titled "Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL" about a thief who robbed banks in a peculiar way and escaped on bicycle (I had to Google it). Not only is it an interesting song, but it's quite good as well, as are the majority of the tunes, which seem to draw inspiration from a diverse selection of personal and historical influences. Highlights include the subtly joyous "Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)," the lonely "Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone on Christmas in Montpelier, VT" and the drum-heavy closer "White Jetta." Each tune weaves the kind of tale that needs a few spins to fully decipher, but isn't so abstract that you can't understand what's going on in the first place. The more you listen, the deeper and more involved the songs become until the album is wholly absorbing.

The song structures on Vs. Children are quite simple and the instrumentation generally sparse, and though some well-placed backing vocals and a few flourishes keep things interesting, you won't find many dazzling musical moments here (fancy chord progressions, exciting climaxes etc.). Also, Ashworth doesn't do much with his voice - which stays fairly flat in a kind of weary, talk-sing style that can take some getting used to. So, for some, Casiotone's music might not make much of an impact, but for those who know what to expect and are looking in the right places, the album is loaded with beautiful lyrical and emotional treasures. Owen Ashworth is a gifted songwriter and a unique talent that has quietly crafted yet another solid set of indie-folk songs.

Hear a good chunk of the album on MySpace