Music

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone: Advance Base Battery Life

Chicago's battery-powered bard serves up a solid singles collection in advance of his fifth full-length.


Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Advance Base Battery Life

Label: Tomlab
UK Release Date: 2009-03-10
US Release Date: 2009-03-10
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Owen Ashworth, the sole member of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, is an old-fashioned sort of guy. This trait was once embodied by Ashworth's aesthetic conceit -- his decision to use outmoded, battery-powered Casiotone keyboards as his only instruments -- though he wisely chose to widen his sonic palette on 2006's excellent Etiquette. Since rendering his nom de plume at least partially inaccurate (rumor has it that he's also not quite "painfully alone"), Ashworth has managed to flaunt his antiquated tastes in other ways, most notably by promoting his format of choice. In the three years since Etiquette, he's released nine singles and splits, all of which were sold as 7"s pressed in quantities of a few hundred each.

As a result, the last three years have been a wonderful time to be a Casiotone fan. By releasing a new single every few months, Ashworth recaptured the kind of excitement that once encouraged even casual music fans to rush out and buy the latest singles from their favorite artists. Of course, times have changed, and despite its popularity within certain subcultural circles, the 45 has largely been viewed as a dead format ever since the demise of the jukebox. This means that only diehard Casiotone fans and/or vinyl fetishists have heard the songs that Ashworth has produced over the course of the last three years, many of which have been good enough to warrant wider release. And so we arrive at Advance Base Battery Life, a compilation of hard-to-find tracks culled from singles, splits, and compilations released between 2005 and 2008.

Ashworth wisely kicks off Advance Base Battery Life with "Old Panda Days", the strongest single he's penned since Etiquette. The song, a deliberately paced number propelled by a cymbal-heavy, start-and-stop beat, prominently features many of Casiotone's trademark devices: post-collegiate malaise, a guest vocalist (in this case, Nick Krgovich of No Kids and P:ano), a protagonist of uncertain gender ("I've been searching this town / And all I have found / Are nights of bad sex with stupid boyfriends I shouldn't have kept / And a stupid flat that I never swept"). At just over two minutes in length, it's an enticingly concise nugget of a song and serves as the perfect introduction to Ashworth's distinctive brand of minimalist, character-driven synth-pop.

"Lesley Gore on the T.A.M.I. Show", the B-side to "Old Panda Days", mines similar territory, pairing vocals from frequent Casiotone collaborator Jenny Herbinson with a protagonist who pines from afar, finally penning a mash note to her beloved, only to have it fall out of her pocket ("Seven pages on 16th street / I lost my words under tires and feet"). "White Corolla", meanwhile, feels slightly more upbeat, its bouncy synth tones keeping things afloat amid a sea of details rendered with a novelist's eye ("You take your coffee black / The way your mother would / One pack of Sweet'n Low / One pack of sugar").

In addition to the Casiotone originals, Advance Base Battery Life also features a number of covers, most of which feel like reverential nods to Ashworth's musical heroes. His cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland" marries the original's sorrowful undercurrent to a harsh, low-end-heavy beat, producing a track that feels at once achingly melancholic and inexplicably triumphant. Pairing with his brother Gordon, a.k.a. Concern, for two Bruce Springsteen covers, Ashworth strikes the appropriate tone of quiet desperation on "Streets of Philadelphia", though the robot vocals on "Born in the USA" make it feel a bit like a tongue-in-cheek throwaway. And on a cover of Missy Elliot's "Hot Boyz", Dear Nora's Katy Davidson manages to ride the beat while Ashworth sounds laconic and disinterested. It's funny -- if a little facetious -- though given both Davidson's and Ashworth's proclivity for heartfelt sincerity, it's not difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt.

There are, unfortunately, a few misses to be found here as well. "Holly Hobby" feels flat without Davidson's empathetic vocals, and "The Only Way to Cry" -- which appeared alongside "Holly Hobby" on Casiotone's 2005 split with Fox Pause -- is a bit too overwrought for its own good. "It's a Crime", a spare confessional that reimagines Ashworth as a coffee shop folkie, stands as the compilation's low point. The song's protagonist, a jealous moper, lacks the emotional complexity that Ashworth usually grants his characters, and the austere arrangement gives the listener little choice but to scrutinize the lyrics. As a result, "It's a Crime" is a painful listen, especially when compared to Ashworth's successful forays into guitar-based rock with San Diego slackers the Donkeys.

Ultimately, Advance Base Battery Life stands as a mostly enjoyable, if slightly disjointed, recap of Ashworth's non-album singles. That the record wants for cohesiveness is hardly surprising -- it is a singles collection, after all -- but that minor quibble shouldn't discourage any Casiotone fans who have yet to hear these songs. If, however, you've managed to collect most of the singles revisited here, you'll likely find little of interest on this release, though fret not: Advance Base Battery Life is meant to serve as little more than an appetizer. The main course -- Ashworth's fifth full-length release, Vs. Children -- is due at the end of next month.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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