Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
wen Ashworth’s fourth album sees him growing up and out of the stripped-down keyboards of his previous work into a fuller and more obviously produced sound that includes piano, live drums, and even a new vocalist. But Etiquette is remarkably similar to what’s come before—the name of the group hasn’t changed to Casiotone for the Kinda Seeing Someone and It Seems Like It’s Going Well or anything. Honestly, did you expect anything less?
The first song, proper, “New Year’s Kiss” is a good barometer of how things will unfold: a tired, plodding drumbeat intertwines with a one-note piano melody and Ashworth doing his best Aidan Moffat impersonation. Ashworth even gets nearly as graphic as Arab Strap at their dirtiest: “Woke up with fingers crossed / In a boy's bed with your pants off / After polite declines of coffee and toast / Walked home itching in last night’s clothes.” But it’s “I Love Creedence” that seems to be the norm here: “Got a job downtown / It's an hour on the bus each way / Typing letters for a lawyer in a bad toupee / It's dumb I know but it pays okay.” These lyrics are, as always, about that period of adolescence right after college graduation that’s the uncomfortable middle ground when one acts like an adult in some areas of their life and a child in others. According to Ashworth, mostly the latter.
Musically, however, Ashworth is no longer interested in the studied minimalism of his previous work. In a recent interview with PerformerMag.com, Ashworth claims that, “Before Etiquette, I limited myself to writing songs I knew I could play live. Now I’m making songs that are more involved, and putting together grandiose arrangements.” Highlight “Scattered Pearls,” proves the point, rubbing Jenn Herbinson’s vocals against a disco beat and elongated chords, a sure-fire recipe for melancholy ecstasy and it doesn’t disappoint, reminding one of a sped-up “Elevator Love Letter.” Similarly, “Cold White Christmas” puts bells, organ, and live drums underneath Ashworth’s near-spoken lyrics and “Nashville Parthenon” even let’s guitars in on the action, if only for the choruses.
With growth comes growing pains however, and Ashworth is no exception: the insular indie aesthetic is in full effect (indie people making indie songs for indie people to be indie to) and it’s unfortunate to hear that while Ashworth is grasping for greater things that he falls into the same sorts of lyrical and musical traps as before. Sure, the songs are serviceable, even great at times, but if you take away the new instruments, the tracks are spitting images of their younger brethren. Dressing up simplistic brilliance like “Scattered Pearls,” doesn’t make it more complex. Then again, business casual ain’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.