This collection of singles and rarities from Owen Ashworth, who records under the accurately descriptive moniker of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, will serve well for listeners new to the artist as well as those who are already fans.
All but two of the tracks that make up Advance Base Battery Live, originally released between 2004 and 2007, are on CD for the first time here, having previously been put out as 7″ split singles or compilation tracks. They provide a helpful and – mostly – enjoyable overview of the scope of Ashworth’s work.
Broadly, the tracks can be divided into categories. Firstly there are those with shared collaborative vocals, like opener Old Panda Days (featuring Canadian Nick Kgrovich, from P:ano and No Kids).
Here, the two voices combine well, to create a warm intimate vocal sound that works well against the glitchy backing, giving this song of youthful urban alienation (“I’ve been searching this town / And all I have found / Are nights of bad sex, with stupid boyfriends I shouldn’t have kept”) a feeling of nostalgia rather than the coldness that the lyrics might suggest.
Jenny Herbinson (from Scattered Pearls) provides lead vocals on Lesley Gore on the TAMI Show – another corker, with a particularly exuberant electronic riff, and again on White Corolla (everyday tales of broken down cars, phones that go straight to voicemail, waiting in Laundromats, but lifted from mundanity by their sparky musical setting).
Several cover versions are included, most of which are again collaborative efforts. These are the least successful inclusions on the album, but provide an interesting insight into Ashworth’s musical tastes.
This being the case, he’s clearly keen on Bruce Springsteen, since two of The Boss’s tracks are covered. BornIn The USA wins points for the likelihood of it distressing po-faced Springsteen fanboys and being a strange, vocoder-heavy and virtually unrecognisable version, while Streets Of Philadelphia, conversely, is almost too similar to the original to have been worth doing.
Both of these also feature Cover who, incidentally, is Ashworth’s brother. Dear Nora (aka. Katy Davison) provides a detached, almost bored-sounding vocal for Missy Elliott‘s Hot Boyz raunchfest. Then there’s a version of Paul Simon‘s Graceland that removes the joyful afrobeat lilt and replaces it with a lifeless drone. It’s disappointing.
Most enjoyable, however, are those tracks that could be described as the straightforward Casiotone tracks. Notable amongst these is White On White. It’s a heart-rending tale with strangulated vocal, which saves its sting for the very end, when the lines “All the rain on the day that you died /I’ve never seen the reservoir so high / I guess this is as close as it gets to goodbye” tell you that he has been singing about dreaming about a deceased friend or perhaps lover.
Holly Hobby is a little heavy-handed, but another favourite is the lovelorn, countrified It’s A Crime, with Ashworth making a surprisingly convincing lonesome cowboy, to acoustic guitar accompaniment. Missoula and The Only Way To Cry are both more sketches/poems/doodles than fully realised songs, with the former working better than the latter.
The album draws to its close with Sunday St, a real long-dark-night-of-the-soul track that sees the narrator coming through and out the other side, followed by the instrumental Voice Of The Hospital, featuring sparkly, shimmery electronic sounds, in a pitch just short of shrill, that provides a nice (albeit short) outro to proceedings.
Ashworth might have been better dropping a couple of the covers and squeezing in a few more originals. And original is probably an apposite word here, as this album effectively illustrates the original voice and appeal of a musician who does indeed always come across, despite the multiple collaborations, as sometimes painfully alone.