Nephew in the Wild is the second full-length album Owen Ashworth has written and recorded under the name Advance Base since retiring his former moniker Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, as well as all of the songs he wrote under that name. It seems obvious why he put that project to rest; by the time of his fourth album, 2006's astonishing Etiquette, his sound had grown far more ambitious since his early Casio-only days, featuring more ornate instrumentation and a cast of guest musicians and producers, and he simply wasn't in the same place anymore (mentally and physically, as he moved from the West Coast to Chicago around the time of the album's release). The final CftPA album was titled Vs. Children, and Ashworth started a family shortly after the album's release in 2009. As with later CftPA releases, Ashworth's work as Advance Base still features plenty of (higher fidelity) keyboards and drum machines, particularly Omnichord and Rhodes electric piano, but his sound is fleshed out by acoustic instruments, including drums and lap steel guitar, with the frequent usage of autoharp being the most intriguing. His vocals are as dry and downtrodden as ever, but there's a surprising country-ish warmth to his voice that simply wasn't present in the flat, slacker-like intonation of his earlier work. There are traces of Bruce Springsteen-like inflection in his voice, which isn't surprising as CftPA and Concern (Owen's brother Gordon Ashworth) released a single of Springsteen covers in 2008. Even though Ashworth might not possess the most expressive or extroverted singing style, his vocals have always been a perfect fit for his music, and his melodic sense remains impeccable; many of his songs are instantly memorable after the first listen. Lyrically, he continues to have a knack for writing quietly powerful songs about friends, family, reminiscences, tragedies, and horror movies, with songs titled "Christmas in Dearborn" and "Christmas in Milwaukee" evoking a sense of frozen Midwestern loneliness. One of the album's highlights, "My Love for You Is Like a Puppy Underfoot," is sung by frequent collaborator Jody Weinmann, and pleasantly brings to mind CftPA songs such as "Holly Hobby" which were sung by Katy Davidson of Dear Nora, not to mention all of the classic Magnetic Fields tunes sung by Susan Anway or Claudia Gonson. Ashworth contributed to Sun Kil Moon's acclaimed 2014 album Benji, and while his lyrics aren't quite as unflinching or occupied with death as Mark Kozelek's, he has a similarly direct, affecting writing style. Ashworth has always been a remarkable songwriter, and while his earlier recordings found him admirably making the best of his limited resources, he's only grown more ambitious as well as mature. At his best, he's as poignant, heartbreaking, funny, sad, and creative as Stephin Merritt, and Nephew in the Wild is a gentle reminder of this.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson