Review : Advance Base - A Shut-In's Prayer
PitchforkOwen Ashworth is familiar with nostalgia. His work as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, an often lo-fi, not-always-Casiotone-based indie pop project that officially came to an end in 2010, encompassed a range of emotions that often tasted more "bitter" than "sweet." Regret, longing, desire, scorn, and jealousy frequently featured on the menu, but what made those feelings resonate was the presence of memory in his songwriting, the idea that even the most painful experiences are worth remembering. That's why his earliest material was so diaristic, as well as why he once chose to write a song reminiscing on when bridge tolls amounted to no more than "one single crisp clean dollar bill." 2009's final Casiotone album, the anti-procreation treatise Vs. Children, is perhaps his most cynical work to date, but the concluding song "White Jetta" punctuated ruminations on sick mothers and unstable bloodlines with a mantra about staying young forever: "To stay the same/ To never change."
Three years removed, and Owen Ashworth's shell has cracked. A Shut-In's Prayer is the proper debut from his new project, Advance Base, and it's easily the most wistful work he's committed to tape. Couched in the most immediate and affecting melodies of his career, many of the stories told on A Shut-In's Prayer look back at the past mainly to remember its contents. Ashworth's flair for narrative detail is in top form, achieving a level so microscopic that, at one point, he zooms in while ruminating on familial ennui to describe a scene in a horror movie that several characters are watching together. Sometimes, as on the album highlight "Riot Grrrls", these trips down memory lane end with resolution-- or, at least, as much resolution that you could get from two college-age outcasts "Wondering if we ran/ Who'd miss us." Elsewhere, memories take on the form of child runaways and faded filial relationships, as Ashworth is left with disconnected threads between the past and present and not much more....full text
ThelineofbestfitOwen Ashworth’s half-faded pinhole photo ballads have always had something of an orchestrated clumsiness about them; late night confessionals coyly croaked over lo-fi instrumentation. A Shut-In’s Prayer is, fundamentally, not all that different from his work under the now defunct Casiotone for the Painfully Alone designation, and yet it seems its own separate entity all the same – wholly formed and thematically integrated.
This new record – Ashworth’s first under the new Advance Base moniker – constantly sees him looking over his shoulder, never abating in his dimpled nostalgia. Indeed, the very first words you hear on the record are ”some recollection of symmetry”. The majority of these reminiscences have a definite sense of time and place about them: references to ”her in her summer dress” in ‘Summer Music’ correspond to ”the summer that we both turned 10″ of ‘David Allen,’ or ‘Riot Grrrls”s’ ”summer jobs at the Oak Mall”; ‘Christmas in Oakland’ quite evidently has a distinct sense of occasion and locale; and penultimate track ‘My Sister’s Birthday’ talks somewhat regretfully about”the Klamath River/The 4th of July.” Amongst them all, ‘Goldfish in a Robin’s Nest’ is notable for being an arcane interlude in a collection full of honest, lyrically frank songs. Its quiet refrain of ”Robin’s egg blue/Robin’s egg blue” leaves the song open to a degree of interpretation not remotely present anywhere else on the record.
While Ashworth’s trademark lo-fi sound is still present (more often than not cheap Super Mario keyboard sounds alongside waltzing bare-bones drum machine tracks), there’s also a new, fuller acoustic bent. ‘More Trouble’, for example, dips its toe in the water with the gently plodding sound of strummed strings, before plunging in with an upright piano and steadfast bass drum kick. A similar assemblage comes to characterise the following song, ‘David Allen,’ only here it’s the lyrical, buoyant piano melody that takes centre stage. For the most part though, it’s testament to the intrinsic calibre of Ashworth’s songwriting that A Shut-In’s Prayer is so absorbing despite such simple instrumentation....full text
MusicomhThere has been much said in the past few years about contemporary music’s obsession with nostalgia and referencing the past. What is undeniably true though is that music with a nostalgic tinge can sometimes be extremely powerful. For musicians nostalgia is often an incredibly overpowering feeling, one that provides a great deal of creative inspiration. Advance Base, the new project of Owen Ashworth, formerly of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, know all about the emotive power of nostalgia. Ashworth’s debut album under his new moniker is a bittersweet ode to lost love and days gone by, and it's filled with gentle pieces of reflection.
A Shut-In’s Prayer is Ashworth’s first full length release in three years but sonically the album very much remains in the mainly lo-fi territory that he occupied with Casiotone. The music is sparse and the album is clear and concise, clocking in at only 34 minutes long. The instrument of choice is a Rhodes electric piano and Ashworth’s twinkling piano melodies dominate. The strong piano coupled with only a drum machine and the occasional autoharp mixed in with the ambience of the cramped and confined environments in which the album was recorded, both at home and in practice rooms at the Chicago library, give the album an engaging intimacy that allow you to fully immerse yourself in Ashworth’s reflective tales.
A Shut In’s Prayer veers between the desperately sad and the strangely uplifting. This is evident on opening track Summer Music which sees Ashworth wistfully lamenting a lost love. Ashworth describes her as “Her in the summer dress” and goes on to say in that doleful deadpan voice of his, “She left with my happiness.” The repeated line about the “Sound of music from the kitchen boom box” is one that we can surely all relate to. The person that we miss is long gone but the memories and the things that remind us of them eternally remain. It is Ashworth’s skill as a songwriter to constantly tap directly in to those feelings and he does that repeatedly on this album.
The album proceeds with an endearing delicateness. The melodies are simple yet incredibly effective with Ashworth’s gentle croon and spoken word vocals mixing nicely with the understated instrumentation. The sparseness of the sound allows the emotion of the extremely detailed lyrics to seep through. A lot of the album gazes back to childhood, a theme explored in the lovely ballad Christmas In Oakland and in Riot Grrrls. In the latter Ashworth creates the character of two teenage school outcasts who form a bond yet grow apart as the crushing inevitabilities of adulthood take hold, “Meg went crazy and we lost touch, I’ve got kids of my own now.”...full text
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