Quit feeling so sorry for yourself. Depending on the context, that was likely either your reaction to hearing Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, or the reaction of your friends when you said Casiotone was your favorite band. But probably no one heard that more than Owen Ashworth himself. Over Casiotone's 15 years, Ashworth coupled bedroom-quality Casio keyboards with LiveJournal-ready confessionals that made his band name an astute exercise in self-awareness. His songs were sad—very sad—and he attracted a strong fanbase of indie kids who appreciated—nay, reflected his woe-some tributes.
But things have been trending upward for Ashworth. He has a wife, a newborn child, and a new band, Advance Base, that treks through many of Casiotone’s same styles without such a disheartening perspective on their debut LP, A Shut-In’s Prayer. But ultimately his improved fortunes mean his most difficult task lies ahead—how does one render the sounds and styles of Casiotone For the Painfully Alone for an audience without any predisposed emotional attachment?
Throughout A Shut-In’s Prayer, Ashworth does an excellent job of operating in space. Nothing sounds as taut as his Casiotone material—melodies are looser, chords resonate to fill a larger role, and Ashworth’s vocals have much more wiggle room. Ashworth still mans the keys and drum machine, but added bass lines and higher production value provide a richer and fuller sound. His lyrics still browse through detailed anecdotes, but his maturation creates a degree of separation that peels away his fascination with depression. Whereas Casiotone often sounded like a band performing only for one, Advance Base are able to fill a room. “New Gospel” and “Goldfish in a Robin’s Nest” both feature pleasant melodies that benefit greatly from improved production, while “Summer Music” and “Riot Grrrls” feature Ashworth at his hook-writing best.
His thematic scope has taken on more space as well. A Shut-In's Prayer lacks the guttural intimacy of Casiotone, but benefits from the contemplative stoicism that’s afforded by the space between author and subject. “New Gospel” is maybe the most direct allusion to the titular shut-in, watching game shows and hiding empty liquor bottles to conceal just how far life has slipped away from the recluse. But instead of dwelling in the wallowing, Ashworth’s narration is the impetus for a new beginning.
The album’s highlight, “Summer Music,” is the closest Advance Base get to the pangs of heartbreak. Ashworth frames a broken relationship from the perspective of someone standing still while the universe moves around him, singing, “There’s no comfort in sympathy / She’s up-state with her family / I’m still at the same address / I still believe I could love her best.”
But Ashworth has only ever used plot arcs as means to convey more personal messages, and characters are mere vessels for his internal dispositions. So while “New Gospel” may serve as a thesis for his transformation, the record’s climax comes in the form of “Riot Grrrls.” Ashworth juxtaposes two best friends and the different transitions from their enjoyably reckless youths to the added pressures of adulthood to portray how easy it is to fall out of line and how difficult it can be to jump back in. While one friend took the lessons of “New Gospel” to make new friends and establish a life of her own, the other was weighed down by the past just like that in “Summer Music.” Lesson learned: Our obsession with nostalgia can be baggage that prevents us from becoming ourselves.
So Ashworth shed that baggage by confronting it head-on and starting anew—and A Shut-In’s Prayer is reason for optimism. Without sacrificing any of his detailed, anecdotal lyricism or thoughtful keyboard arrangements, Advanced Base managed to construct a record you can play over and over again without feeling so sorry for yourself.
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