Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Pocket Symphonies for Lonely Subway Cars

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Short and sweet -- 16 songs in 34 minutes -- Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's second album is a pure delight, a collection of warm, wry, and most often melancholy songs that continues Owen Ashworth's exploration into the world of lo-fi synth pop for the emotionally bruised soul. While there's a definite Magnetic Fields vibe on Pocket Symphonies -- similar emphases on fraught romantic situations, the occasional participation of other performers, synths that are just messy enough -- the connection is more one of shared inspirations. The key point of difference is the productions, since Ashworth often drowns his songs in even thicker murk than Stephin Merritt sometimes does, but never to the point where it's completely lost in the fuzz. Everything is scaled accordingly, so the percussion, though often brutal drum machine crunch, never overwhelms the sweetly sad synth parts, and when everything connects, like the sudden cymbal crashes added to "Bus Song" or the steady drone surge of "Destroy the Evidence," it's a delight. His singing voice always sounds more one-room-over than whispered in one's ear, though the tone is equally conversational, almost as if one is eavesdropping. Ashworth is also blessed with some wonderfully sharp lyrics that stand out just right from the songs -- some good examples: "Frank Sinatra on the radio/But it might as well have been Li'l Kim/When every song you hear/Still reminds you of him" and "I know you're lying/When you start talking like your battery is dying." Everything about the melodies are straightforward enough, most often recurrent loops with an additional keyboard line here or there (and, at two points, thanks to guest Jason Quever, some lovely cello work), resulting in quietly meditative listens. Another nice touch -- opening and closing the album with the same song, "We Have Mice," though sung by different people.

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