Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – We Have Mice

Since the policies and economic structures of the world seem to be reverting back to those of the Reagan/Thatcher-era, I think its time to recall that defining characteristic of 80s music: the synthesizer. On first glance of Owen Ashworth’s big dark-rimmed frames, you will probably suspect that his one-man band is going to be another melodic-pop geek band like the Samples, Weezer, Ozma, etc. Despite the fact that his primary instrument is a beaten-up old SK-1, Casiotone’s music is a far cry from the “retro” bands mentioned above. His dark witty lyrics might bring to mind Stephen Merrit (particularly his work as the Gothic Archies), but his minimal production and earnest delivery is closer to Daniel Johnston.

“We Have Mice” is not quite as unnerving as the stark “Tonight Was a Disaster,” but it highlights Ashworth’s growing talent for writing good hooks without sacrificing the power of including unusual or mundane details. These little details, such as the interaction with roommates, landlords, etc., add an unsettling element of realism. The imperfect stutters and beeps of his old machines highlight the imperfection of human relationships – a theme common to his songs. While Stephen Merrit sings of morose and almost psychotic longing, his deadpan lyricism is clearly meant as a theatrical tragi-comedy. With Ashworth, the picture in “We Have Mice” of someone befriending pests while waiting for a call that will never come is so personal that it is difficult to tell the difference between reality and theatre. That the two are so well intertwined is what makes the listening experience so captivating. Listening to his songs give you the feeling that you are reading someone’s diary.

While Casiotone’s music harbors a hip innocence, seeing Owen perform dispels the sense that this is self-aware or contrived in any way. His popularity can only grow as his songs touch a raw nerve with pretentious scenesters (perhaps recalling with renewed clarity their outsider status back in high school) while going down smoother than 50-year old scotch for those with recently shattered hearts.