Album: Advance Base Battery Life
Artist: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Due Out: March 10th
With each release, Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone has progressed the band from its Lo-Fi roots, to a sound which has gradually given his music a little more room to breathe. The most notable departure from the mold occurred with his 2007 effort Etiquette. Where in the past, we heard songs that were constructed almost exclusively of multi-layered recordings from small, battery-operated keyboards and sub-par vocal microphones, there was a new clarity and definition, as well as the increased use of guitars and other instruments. On his newest release Advance Base Battery Life, he continues in that vein, further pushing the limits of the band. He even brings a new intensity to his at times sleepy and always laid-back brand of glitch electronica.
Starting off, we have "Old Panda Days (W/ Dan Krgovich)", a great opener that feels like waking up to the sun after a storm that raged for days and nights, or maybe a series of relationships gone horribly wrong. As usual, with this band, the focus is on being painfully alone. Next, is "Leslie Gore on the T.A.M.I. Show (Version)", a reworking of an older song from Pocket Symphonies for Lonesome Subway Cars. In essence it is the same song, but with trance synths and crunching drums taking the forefront over the dated electronic strings of the original, and a new female vocalist instead of Ashworth being featured. Sometimes redoing a song can be pointless, but this one gets my approval. The same female vocalist is also featured on the next track, "White Corolla", a song with one of the more danceable beats on any CFTPA album.
Something I immediately noticed while listening to Advance Base Battery Life is that Ashworth's usual, frankly half-sung/spoken vocals have a newly pronounced melodic nature to them. He's actually singing in a way that makes him seem emotionally invested in his subject rather than emotionally drained by it. The next track, "White on White" is where you really start to notice it. It's still relaxed and true to what we've become accustomed to, but he's definitely taking more risks than in the past. This is followed by another reworking, this time with a more poignant version of "Holly Hobby"from Etiquette. It's overall more biting than the original, and is one of the album's real standouts. After that, is the Postal Service-esque "Lonesome New Mexico Nights", and the short and dark "The Only Way To Cry". A rare break in the synths comes with the next song, "It's A Crime". An acoustic guitar-driven song, that sounds like what could happen if David Bazan were to cover Bright Eyes' Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
We transition into one of Ashworth's experimental vignettes with "Missoula", and then the next two tracks are a bit puzzling. "Hot Boyz (W/ Dear Nora)" and "Born in the U.S.A. (W/Concern)" seem to have just been thrown in for the joke, considering that the former is a hip-hop banger, with a female singer reminiscent of a less innovative M.I.A. on "Paper Planes", and the latter is yes, a Bruce Springsteen cover, but with Daft Punk-style vocoder vocals. Knowing the band's prior work, it is clear that Ashworth has a sense of humor, and likes to break up the seriousness with experimentation, but my only question is, with a fifteen track album, why drop two completely out of place songs in the middle of an otherwise exceptional string of tunes? It seems like they would have been better suited for a b-sides release.
"Streets of Philadlephia (W/ Concern)" picks up where the beginning of the album left off, and then leads us straight into the epic "Graceland". This song is one of the biggest risks on the album, but it is still a classic CFTPA track. It rises slowly, and becomes more emotionally strained, until finally overdriven guitars and the song's hook carry it to the close. This is followed by "Sunday St", the last full song on the album, which continues in the mood set down before it. And we finally come to the end at the instrumental "Voice Of The Hospital", an instrumental that comes in at less than a minute, but packs an emotional punch and serves as an epilogue to the record.
On first listen, I am already a big fan of this album. It's a natural progression from the last release, and it adds some new dimension to CFTPA's overall body of work. Even with the two tracks that I felt may not have fit in as well as planned, there's still very little to complain about as far as quality here. This is an artist who is growing and changing, and letting it show in his music. He's keeping the listeners interested with consistent releases, while never giving us the same thing twice. I'm excited to see where Ashworth can go as an artist from here. This album accomplishes what I believe Etiquette was intended to, and it feels like a turning point that could very well set off a whole other side of things we have yet to see.
Best Track: "Holly Hobby"