Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone gave me the best bear hug I have ever gotten in my life. I’m a tall, big man so it’s really hard to get good ones, but Owen is both bigger and taller than me, the type of rare individual who can actually fulfill that duty. While I could weakly follow this into an analogy about his music (the typical habit for us Hipster Bullshit writers), it would be kind of unnecessary. The only important thing is that Owen’s the type of person that’s good at giving that perfect overwhelming bear hug, the one that sticks with you even three years later.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is at heart a musical project centered on empathizing with the American individual. Ashworth plays the ringleader, bringing in a variety of musical personalities both on this album: Jason Quever from the Papercuts, feel-good rockers The Donkeys and friend Jenn Herbinson; and in the past: members of the Dead Science, Concern, Nick Krgovich from No Kids, Dear Nora) to help flesh out the core of the project. The friends that help rarely expand the subject matter, but instead typically allow the music itself to move closer to the individual, the “painfully alone.” With the band being so distinctly American, the alone are always people who have been betrayed by the greater institutions and ideals of America. When push comes to shove, they find that every wonderful construct they’ve bought into has deserted them. It sounds depressing, right? It’s not because empathy is in fact the best medicine that can be provided. It’s the bear hug, the sense that at least someone who’s as much a victim of the system understands.
On his last album “Etiquette,” Ashworth focused his songwriting on the post-college generation. His new album grows with those people as they move to become part of American society and become focused on material wealth and procreation. Lyrically, this means a lot of songs about robbing safes and making babies. While I can argue it as an obvious evolution, it’s also just a general evolution for Ashworth who is now around that baby-making age and recently saw a friend/acquaintance go to jail for a string of robberies.
Every song on this album is a pristine character study. “Optimist vs. the Silent Alarm” channels the pursuit of Americana with a man going on a robbing spree in order to “raise a family on shorts and Mickey Mouse.” It’s soaked in the religious character of the country, filled with hallelujah’s and a final breakdown into a cover of “The Saints Go Marching In” as the police arrive. “Killers” is the first song I’ve ever heard about the morning-after pill and Ashworth captures the vibe perfectly. Awkward dialogue hovers in between the couple with only the barest of tambourine and drum beats to fill the void. The song closes by folding into rock music for support with a rewording of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”
The album ends with what perhaps is the quintessential Casiotone for the Painfully alone song “White Jetta.” While many other Casiotone songs mine the turf of great tragedy, “White Jetta” has no great tragedy, just perhaps the minor tragedy of American life. The titular “White Jetta” houses an ordinary kid whose mother is slowly getting sick and wants him to grow up and have children. He doesn’t understand the people in his town. In fact, the only thing he seems to understand and like is driving around in his beat up car blasting Misfits albums from a boom box in the backseat. He’s alone, may possibly become more alone, but at heart he is an individual rejecting his old friends who went off to college and bought into a phony system. And how does Owen comfort him? With a simple instruction “to stay the same, to never change.”
Graham Culbertson is a KCPR DJ and a Hipster Bullshit columnist.