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The Aptly Named Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

April 28th, 2010

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Mercury Lounge – April 27, 2010

(Photo: Markus Gradwohl)

(Photo: Markus Gradwohl)

What may have started out as a bet with one of Owen Ashworth’s friends about putting together a solo album using only cheap toy keyboards has turned into five albums and countless seven-inch releases 11 years later. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone played last night as a five-piece ensemble complete with a horn section, but Ashworth has retained the core Rhodes Organ melodies and his deadpan low-register delivery. Backed by the precise drumming of Nick Tamburro, from the Dead Science, along with trombone and trumpet from members of opening band Magical Beautiful, his bedroom recordings have taken on a full, epic feel. The intensely personal lyric against a bare-bones structure of simple melody still remains the hook in CFTPA’s work, but the instrumentation allows for a subtle, more complex delivery and introduces humanity back into the arrangement.

Ashworth has taken that classic one-man songwriter aesthetic and combined it with deceptively catchy melodies to embrace being trapped in mediocrity and heartbreak. On stage at Mercury Lounge he even embodied that vulnerability. You get the impression he’s lived these moments and set them to appropriately stark arrangements. Melodically, the songs aren’t necessarily dark—it’s not the plodding melancholy of Joy Division. But while the tracks are rhythmically upbeat, Ashworth’s slivers of a dark diary entry always make it through, like with “New Year’s Kiss”: “Not the way that you’d imagined it/ On a balcony with champagne lips/ But in a pantry against the pancake mix /You had your New Year’s kiss.” The simplicity of sentiment is so specific it becomes universal. His sound has evolved from the lowly thrift-store keyboards into the natural sound of a live band, which Ashworth still uses in unconventional ways, because after all, he is still writing songs the only way he knows, full of painfully awkward moments and honesty. —Jason Dean