Written for The Quietus
MP3: Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)
With the grand, heavenly sound of a harp crescendo, Owen Ashworth (aka Casiotone For The Painfully Alone) embarks on another epic exploration of domestic woe and sharply observed everyday strife.
We're taken straight into the sad tale of a baby faced hood called Tom Justice - "The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL", as the song title reliably informs us. It's a story told in witty couplets over beats and piano that could otherwise be a hip-hop backing track - "they called you a choirboy, the way you cleared those safes / but you only ever bowed your head to keep your face off the tapes".
"Optimist vs. The Silent Alarm" sees a couple breaking out of humdrum existence and taking to the road, Thelma & Louise style. But throughout the course of the song, the underlying desperation that makes their exhilaration possible becomes apparent. At the very least they're in trouble, and at worst they're doomed. The song ends with a funny, rousing rendition of 'When The Saints Go Marching In'.
On album standout "Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT", there's another glimpse of some human warmth amidst the bleak landscape of modern life as the couple in question talk on the telephone long distance - "all our promises come so easy / they fill the distances to our next meeting". But ultimately, the kitchen sink micro-drama ends bitterly - "all our promises are so fleeting, when all I really want is you close to me, but you were already out the door by the time that occurred to me".
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone succeeds in representing a sad, kindly eye watching over the tableau of everyday life, lending a poetic importance to the unwitnessed sadnesses of small lives lived in small towns. Sometime you can see yourself in it, or someone you know. Or maybe it's an album about strangers - the overly factual song titles suggest stories plucked from the pages of mid-American town newspapers. Miserablist alt-pop socio-musical anthropology, then? Maybe. But however you choose to analyse it, Casiotone Vs. Children is an evocative and involving listen, and a fittingly accomplished fifth album from Mr. Ashworth.