Though Owen Ashworth closed the book on his Casiotone years some time ago, and has reemerged again as Advance Base, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’s In Cambridge serves as a captured memory and a captivating account of something cherished coming to a close. Even more, In Cambridge serves as an affirmation. What makes Ashworth’s music magical or beautiful is not Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, or a live backing band, but Ashworth himself. Recorded live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2010, two years before the release of Advance Base’s debut A Shut-In’s Prayer, In Cambridge’s gift is one of decided closure and thoughtful celebration.
In Cambridge begins with an intoxicating rendition of “I Love Creedence.” Infused with nutted shakers and sloshing drums, cloaked between the stern and heady madness of brow-furled organ, Ashworth’s patient vocals build. As he gets into the meat of the broken memories of beloved character “Creedence Clearwater Wright,” he sings fast, running words together, in a passion-filled half-sing-half-speak, losing some of the beginnings and ends of his words in an invigorating utterance of necessary expressive immediacy. As we feel the directness, the here-and-nowness of this act opening up, and the looming closeness of the end, and are enthralled anew in the contemplative nostalgia of lyrics like “it’s different but I can’t say how,” we curse the day this will end. And words like “the only one besides my dad that’s said I love you Creedence,” sit heavier on the chest than ever. And it might be because that line, and lines like it, continue to matter tremendously.
In Cambridge spares nothing–the spooking heckles of wise guys and badgerers are present in permanent recorded history. And their presence cause one to respect the challenge of opening a heartfelt work to the world. Thankfully, Ashworth just pushes on through. After squawks and an outcry for “Holly Hobby,” Ashworth explains to the crowd: “I’m gonna ask that you trust us on this one. Just to let you know, we’ve got it all worked out. It’s gonna be rad.” The track closes and Ashworth drops readily into the foggy electric-piano-plated curtains of “New Year’s Kiss.” Ashworth’s voice strains, and Charlie Vinz’ bass is perfectly pungent and pulling against the sentiment. The horns lift and the fury of drums mixed with Ashworth’s steadily persisting cadence bind the tie between Ashworth’s narrative and his reality. The undermined expectations in the song ring true, and as Ashworth sings about a night full of potential quickly becoming “not the way that you’d imagined it,” a new meaning settles.
Though Ashworth shines vibrantly on In Cambridge, people often have expectations for how things are going to go. And music is no different. Here, there is an added element of the audience’s clawing energy, perhaps more dire than ever, at the brink of Ashworth’s transition. It can even be felt in the faces of discontented concert-goers on the album’s cover. One wonders, will the crowd ever be happy? We’ve seen the gold drip from Ashworth’s recordings. We know it is there. So why do we still scream out, asking for more or for something else? It is a lot to ask a crowd to loose expectation—especially one that has counted on these songs through the years. But it is ultimately necessary, as expectation threatens to displace the sincerity that renders music vital. Ashworth is not immune to the crowd, though he stands behind his choices. But he is versed in human nature, and it is all the more palpable on a live album.
When asked about the departure from Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and the new beginning as Advance Base in an A.V. Club interview, Ashworth says: “I’d lost the emotional connection to a lot of the songs that I’d written in my early twenties, and it felt crazy to just keep playing them forever. I wanted to write new songs without having to worry about how they were going to fit into a set list next to all of the old songs that people were coming to my shows to hear. I thought I might be able to write better songs if I just stopped worrying if people were going to like them as much as the old songs.”
And this serves as an In Cambridge manifesto of sorts. For the music to contain the substance that drew the crowd in the first place, it needs to come from the crowdless place. Maybe In Cambridge was a way for Ashworth to draw a break and reduce his crowd, metaphorically at least, an opportunity to empty out the seats in his mind, so that he could move on. In light of the recording date, and the thought that he might have recorded In Cambridge in the midst of being ready to move on–it seems amazing that it exists. And today, with Advance Base’s first lo-fi treasure in our hands for almost a year now, In Cambridge becomes almost more meaningful of an offering.
Still, even in all of this, there is a welcomed lightness to In Cambridge, and it almost serves to attest to the grace with which Owen Ashworth handles himself. At one point Ashworth apologizes: “We have a real temperamental Rhodes, so this might take a minute,” and we hear someone catcall sharply, “Hey, hey, no problem.” Then, as the Rhodes beeps, Ashworth paying no attention, yells giddily, “…hey, hey!” These side comments and exchanges become an endearing piece of the fabric. With his‘thank you’s’ and ‘absolutely’s’, dedicating of songs, proud introductions to the band and occassional laughter picked up by the mic—we sense what a truly celebratory event this is. On top of this, Ashworth is backed by members of Magical Beautiful.
It’s quite charming to hear the entire title of “Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL” announced aloud. Ashworth’s sampler twinkles against the backdrop of a double life and crouching full-band-sound bombards suddenly, storming: “Is it a kind of relief to pay for your sin?”
“Natural Light” is glorious and pure–the pronunciation of words, stripped and faltering, simple and straightforward. Maybe it’s Ashworth’s characters’ fondness for and forgiveness toward relationships that have caused pain or mutual regret that kills us.
The sublime horn embellishments sparkle on the gorgeous and female-less version of “Man O’ War.” Ashworth’s penchant for transforming bizarre scenarios into believable and tender accounts of the fragility of life and the adjustment difficulties of those left behind spills against the backdrop of shamefully triumphant horns and leave us utterly still and in awe. Alance Ward’s chilling trumpet balms and settles in rupturing sparseness in the fragile “Don’t They Have Payphones Wherever You Were Last Night.”
“Harsh The Herald Angels Sing” features wonderfully morning-eyed piano keying spotlighting against a softly hovering organ. Nick Tamburro’s stripped drums sober the piano, and Ashworth’s embodiment of a tired, outcasted, and rightfully embittered pregnant woman have never been more convincing. Though the song is a sad one, Ashworth’s wry comic intervention glistens as he pushes, “I guess I just quit drinking,” and “With my headphones on, no music, please don’t sit next to me.”
“The Subway Home” closes in delicate anticipation and the words, “said it right from the start, these sorts of things fall apart,” are blanketed as they drop, by the very real, very present guarantee of a new beginning.
Pre-order In Cambridge (Official Release: February 12, 2013) at orindal.limitedrun.com here.
Live band for In Cambridge:
Owen Ashworth: vocals, organ, piano, electric piano & sampler
Nick Broste: trombone & organ
Nick Tamburro: drums & percussion
Tyson Torstensen: electric piano, piano, guitar & bass
Charlie Vinz: bass & guitar
Alance Ward: percussion & trumpet
In Cambridge Tracks
I Love Creedence
New Year’s Kiss
Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL
Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In)
Traveling Salesman’s Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT
Man O’ War
Harsh The Herald Angels Sing
You Were Alone
Cold White Christmas
Bobby Malone Moves Home
Don’t They Have Payphones Wherever You Were Last Night
The Subway Home