Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
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In a highly anticipated follow up to 2006’s Etiquette, Owen Ashworth offers plenty of lo-fi sounds, rounded out not just with his signature electronic tinkering, but with a more grown-up presence. The honkytonk keys are toned down, and Ashworth slips in a mature selection of horns and strings. Don’t be fooled though – this is still music for The Painfully alone.
Ashworth broods over plenty of dark subject matter on the album, mostly of a deviant nature. Criminals, parents and even one of Ashworth’s former co-workers are all lyric fodder, and why not? No one is spared in this thirty-minute smorgasbord of angst, but great art sometimes requires great suffering.
‘Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)’ conjures up the work of Conor Oberst, with a steady country beat and crooning hallelujahs that are the backbone of any great travelling song. Ashworth sings of “skeletons of cigarettes & empty cans & bottles”, but without any trace of ennui.
‘Northfield, MN’ is a standout track, a moody and lilting monument to every parent’s worst nightmare unfolding – “you took the baby to your mother’s end of June, & kissed her for the last time”. The staccato keyboards and Ashworth’s deadpan vocals make for an affecting five minutes which will draw you to the track again and again.
The horrorshow is reversed in ‘Killers’, a tick-tock tale of the pressure to abort an unwanted child and the flippant force with which the decision could be made – “call in sick, I’ll get some movies…we could be killers just for one night”. The music is minimal, and poised to create an atmosphere of morose tension.
The chilling trilogy reaches its third trimester with ‘Harsh The Herald Angels Sing’, a song fit to undo all of the gloss and glory of a certain “edgy” movie about teenage pregnancy released a couple of years ago. In an apathetic anticlimax, our unwed mother-to-be is harassed by her neighbours and spends the morning puking her guts out. There are no supportive parents, no baby showers and no unrealities here – “it’s difficult & it’s boring”.
Vs. Children is a collection of uncomfortable stories, but it’s one that you can probably relate to and take comfort in. If you’re looking for a summer party album, Vs. Children takes a backseat to its predecessor – there’s more of a country flavour, which decreases the tempo significantly. But hey – while you’re out in the country, you might as well slow down to enjoy the view.
Vs. Children is out now on Tomlab Records.