3/5 — The guitar’s dominance of rock music can be attributed to a few key factors. Its portability, versatility and ability to produce both rhythm and melody at the same time all make it the optimum choice for troubadours and production facilities alike.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone makes a convincing argument that the evolutionary successor to the guitar has been under our noses for around 20 years: the battery-operated miniature keyboard.
On the album “Twinkle Echo,” Casiotone demonstrates how a well-worn Casio MT-65 can produce tones as warm as any finger-plucked acoustic, and the miracle of pre-programmed beats can generate rhythm and melody simultaneously without all the hassle of strings and picks.
Owen Ashworth, the film school dropout behind the project, plays the part of the 21st century singing cowboy, rambling up and down the West Coast with his trusty keyboards slung on his back, recording his thoughts on borrowed four-track devices along the trail. “Twinkle Echo” is a compilation of these field recordings; a surprisingly cohesive album of pocket-sized dirges and reveries.
After the initial shock of the lo-fidelity and the plain broken-down sound of the production wears off, the listener can ease into the richness of the songs themselves. Ashworth has a knack for describing everyday things like parking lots and movie theaters in conversational language while lending them a mystical significance that gives power to his vocal delivery.
Despite his congested voice and limited range, the little gems of melody he does squeeze out prove Ashworth’s greatness. On “Blue Corolla,” Ashworth nails verses like “We used to drive to Phoenix in the summers/ to see your sister and mom and go swimming in the pool/ you were 21 and I was almost 20/ the year we dropped out of school” with such casual honesty that any potential taste of gimmicks is quickly cleansed from the palate.
Ashworth knows his way around a keyboard. The range of tones and structures he is able to coax out of his collection of thrift store treasures is astounding. He favors the organ setting for most of the tonal groundwork. He manipulates the preset beats just as their inherent limitations manipulate his songwriting.
In Casiotone, Ashworth has found a means of storytelling a million times more efficient than his first ambition: film making. Ashworth’s tales of introverted romance and glum routines are imparted without anything or anyone getting in the way.