CD Review: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone — Vs. Children and Advance Base Battery Life

CasiotoneVsChildren CasiotoneAdvance Base Battery Life Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Vs. Children
and
Advance Base Battery Life
Tomlab

By Al Kaufman

Chicago native and film school dropout Owen Ashworth and his Casio make up Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. It's a combination of a painfully flat voice with a lots of digital beeps and beats. On Vs. Children, Ashworth has grown warmer and more organic, incorporating more organ and piano sounds, with long, rich tones. Sure, all the songs are about killers and thieves, but the listener immediately feels a sort of kinship to the characters' loneliness and disillusion.

"All I wanted was you close to me / But you were already out the door by the time it occurred to me," sings the pregnant title character of "Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone on Christmas in Montpelier, VT." That salesman shows up again in "Killers," when he states, "Oh my God, I think that we had an accident." Then later he paraphrases David Bowie's "Heroes" in a deliciously dark way when he contemplates the couple having an abortion, saying, "We could be killers, just for one night." On the following "Harsh the Herald Angels Sing," we realized the fetus has been spared, and the resigned character says, "I guess I'll need some names / Alvin, William or James." The story, like many of the others here, is told with the same simple detachment that can be expected from an autistic serial killer.

"Tom Justice, the Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL" tells the story of a clean-cut, bike riding man Ashworth knew who cleaned out 26 safes without firing a shot before he was apprehended. Ashworth asks straight out, "Tom, I heard you were smiling when the feds rushed in / Was it a kind of relief to pay for your sins?" It's a wonderful tale that could be told by Quentin Tarantino, but has gravity of some of Martin Scorsese's best character studies. It is followed by "Optimist Vs. the Silent Alarm (When the Saints Go Marching In)." A downright jaunty tune in which two robbers who just made a big score realize a silent alarm is about to do them in. They go back and forth in deciding if the cops will get them, or if they will be able to hide out for a while, then start a new life and "raise a little family on Schlitz and Mickey Mouse." These are fucked-up people, but that doesn't make them any less complex or relate-able. It's a fascinating glimpse into their lives, like a highbrow Jerry Springer.

On Advance Base Battery Life, Ashworth offers up limited releases and 7-inches from 2004-07. As expected, it's a bit of a hodgepodge and much more electronic than Vs. Children. Jenny Herbison's (of Scattered Pearls) cold but sweet vocals complement the arrangements on "Lesley Gore on the T.A.M.I. Show" and "White Corolla" beautifully. And covers ranging from Missy Elliot's "Hot Boyz" to Paul Simon's "Graceland" are, at the very least, interesting.

But the instrumental version of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" flat-out doesn't work. Without the powerful lyrics, this version only demonstrates the repetitive nature of the melody, and the keyboards are too harsh to make it even listenable. While Vs. Children captures a sort of mood, Advance Base Battery Life is more of an introduction to everything Ashworth can do. It is actually best summed up by the final line from the press kit: "Electronic tabla, acoustic guitar, vocoder, and live percussion temper . . . blah, blah, blah, it's a single's compilation."

Casiotone plays the 529 with Cryptacize on Tuesday, June 30. Tickets available at Ticket Alternative.

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