According to music label Tomlab, if Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s 2006 album Etiquette was the band’s Queen is Dead , then Advance Base Battery Life, a collection of mostly unreleased 7-inch split-singles and compilation tracks from 2004-07, is his Hatful of Hollow. As a Smiths fan, I’m not sure that I would go that far.
Unlike Casiotone’s other albums, Advance Base Battery Life does not embrace a concept, as it is made up of songs composed over a decade. Yet in some ways, the heterogeneous nature of the release is a strength. The odd bits and bobs typical of the 7-inch and B-side world manage to make Advance Base Battery Life a little more interesting than Owen Ashworth’s previous work.
A number of the tracks are indicative of the one-man-band’s typical, stripped-down songs, at once confessional, yet oddly emotionless. The music itself is spare, essentially a steady percussion to go along with his stories of spurned love, and Ashworth’s monotone often ends up sounding like he is bored with the whole project (this is probably an affectation, but it is also irritating at times). Yet there are a few standout tracks that elevate the album. The first track, “Old Panda Days,” featuring label-mate Nick Krgovich of No Kids on vocals, is a nice surprise. The electronica in the background is still pared down and simplistic, but Krgovich’s vocals are rather melodic, and the song works quite well. The covers on this album are the true highlights. Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz” gets the Casiotone treatment, featuring vocals by Katy Davidson of Dear Nora and Ashworth himself. The result is a hilarious take on Elliott’s sexed-up original, as Davidson sounds more like the nerdy girl in the back of the classroom, reciting her sexual desires to a very surprised mathlete.
Ashworth’s covers of “Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.” and “Streets of Philadelphia,” featuring his brother Gordon Ashworth of Concern, work suprisingly well, the latter of which is actually just a very pretty track in its own right. Maybe a Boss fan would shudder, but Ashworth manages to make the song sound somehow more honest and raw than the original.