Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
March 17, 2006
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Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Etiquette

Owen Ashworth has made a career on making you believe that he's so much like you. Well, not the constant you, but the you when everyone leaves after your party at the same time and you're left to wonder "What now? I feel empty...I bet I could write something about this." I'm sure many of us have done that before. His project, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, has been about exploring topics of melancholic (and occasionally bordering on masked misanthropic) nature with lo-fi basement production. In a way, Ashworth could be made out to be Chris Carabba with ostensibly more grit and integrity. Etiquette adds more musical elements to the grassroots mix in an experiment of how building excess can affect your mission.

Ashworth starts off this introspective experiment by mixing relative harmonic simplicity with increased sonic layering. It would be surprising to the previously initiated to hear strings, pedal steel, and guest vocalists (!) pepper the album. To those new to the Casiotone sound, the male vocals are almost robotic and mathematical in quality, rarely shifting out of a monotone with a somber immediacy. "New Year's Kiss" and "Young Shields" are examples of songs that are somewhat brought down by the tepid utterances. These tracks are not extremely catchy or complex by any means, but they would not sound out melodically out of place as b-sides for any of the Joy Division/New Order clones that litter the current indie music landscape. As the blips, bloops, and drum machine taps continue, various elements of true emotional fortitude shine through the void. Interestingly enough, these moments are incensed by Casiotone's new elements. The near-country pedal steel backing on "Nashville Parthenon" adds levity to an electronic mix that would rather traipse along begrudgingly as you hardly take note. "Scattered Pearls" is a Katy Davidson-led number that is downright upbeat and may lead the self-loathing wallflowers to the dancefloor (or at least off their asses).

All in all, Etiquette is a mixed bag. Certainly not as unsettling as a 'delicate blend of sweat and menstrual blood (from the quirky closer "Love Connection"), but not light enough to stick with you hours after you listen to it. The main point to take from Etiquette is that it is a step in the right direction for a man whose voice seems to be caught somewhere in the grey area between Joy Division and Xiu Xiu. My only hope is that he doesn't overshoot his goal and slingshot himself into the land of what I like to call "noise poetry". For now, this is pop music struggling with barbituate addiction. By adding more sonorous elements to the Casiotone repertoire, Ashworth will likely expand his listening audience without entirely alienating old fans - and rightfully so - but lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint) for him, friends will always find ways to leave without saying goodbye.

Release date: March 7, 2006
Label: Tomlab
Rating: 5.9 / 10

[RMR]