Casiotone for the Painfully Alone


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Etiquette, literate plastic keyboard maestro Owen Ashworth's fourth release under the moniker Casiotone for the Painfully Alone introduced non-bedroom production into the mix, utilizing guest vocalists, strings, woodwinds, pedal steel guitars, and various synthesizers and drum machines from other companies into what was once a simple recipe. What sounds like a major overhaul on the album jacket is less so when applied to the 12 tracks that fill Etiquette's exoskeleton with meat. Fans who swooned over Ashworth's previous collections of snide, affecting, and consistently heartbroken pop songs will find that he's only taken the first step up from lo-fi, with at least half of the songs still residing in the thin, insular confines of four-track distortion filtered through corner store six-packs. That's not to say that songs like "I Love Creedence," "Cold White Christmas," and the Steve Merritt-channeling-David Bowie's-"Five Years'" grandeur of "New Year's Kiss" don't resonate on a sonic level as well as an emotional one. In fact, those three, along with the jazzy "Bobby Malone Moves Home" and the hesitant "Nashville Parthenon" may be some of his finest works, but the inclusion of guest vocalists Sam Mickens, Jenn Herbinson, and Katy Davidson -- the latter leads four songs -- all of whom have lovely and expressive voices, keeps Etiquette from engaging on the kind of one-on-one basis that made Pocket Symphonies for Lonely Subway Cars and Twinkle Echo such selfish pleasures.

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