As the name implies, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone work in a foundation of minimalist, electronic keyboard patterns and sounds with darkly satirical lyrics, often delivered in a deadpan manner. Advance Base Battery Life is a compilation of pieces recorded between 2004 and 2007, only two of which have previously appeared on CD, from electronic music artist Owen Ashworth, a.k.a. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. However, this collection sees CFTPA expanding on the model with the inclusion of strings, flutes, tabla and pedal steel to give the tunes a more natural hue.
In a style much like Dntel and The Russian Futurists, CFTPA cut bits and pieces from differing musical styles and genres and pastes them on top of each other to create mini sound collages that sound both strange and familiar at the same time. Each track is constructed around a 4 or 5-note whimsical motif on top of some punchy, and often buzzing, percussive beats with layers of sampled electronics and fuzzy dream-pop percolating throughout. An eclectic variety of instruments and noises are incorporated making each song unique but the album as whole difficult to digest all in one sitting.
The crooning on top of the synthetic rhythms and textures is shared by Ashworth and a few guest vocalists, most notably Jenny Herbinson from Scattered Pearls. While Ashworth draws comparisons to Marc Bianchi (Her Space Holiday) and Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields), both in lyrical content and how their skewed perspectives and biting wit are delivered, it’s Herbinson who shines on a couple of tracks; taking advantage of her wryly wistful pipes to turn a couple of bedroom electronic music experiments into quirky and catchy oddball pop nuggets.
Unfortunately this can’t be said of every track. The additional instruments don’t always compliment the short, bouncy and scratchy electronica. The layered beats, keyboards and instrumental orchestrations often contain warm textures, but just as often come off as cold expressions. Some tracks are more immediate with hooky synth lines and snappy beats while others are quirky and odd that stop just short of being monotonous, but not before being bothersome.
Adding to the peculiarities is the inclusion of fuzzy, synth-pop covers of Missy Elliot’s “Hot Boyz”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Bruce Springteen’s “Streets Of Philadelphia” and “Born In The U.S.A”, the latter of which is even more boring than the original.
Some patience and repeated plays will be needed to digest the concise, offbeat and scratchy melodies from this eccentric, bedroom electronic artist.
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): Magnetic Fields, Her Space Holiday, Dntel and The Russian Futurists
Recommended Tracks: “Lesley Gore on the T.A.M.I. Show (version)” and “White Corolla”
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone: http://www.cftpa.org