CASIOTONE FOR THE PAINFULLY ALONE – VS. Children (2009)

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - VS. Children It was less than a month ago that CFTPA released a rather uneven compilation; while not without a few standout songs, it was hardly the collection I was hoping for, and worse, it was organized gracelessly (every song from the original releases proceeding in sequential order, with most of the covers tossed thoughtlessly at the end of the disc). So yes. Not terribly impressed. But now, it is April, and I have added yet another CFTPA album to my collection. Unfortunately, this new album is not much better than the compilation that was released in March.

VS. Children is a bit of a departure for the band, on two levels; first, there’s the obvious shift in instrumentation – Owen Ashworth is focusing less on 80’s keyboard glory and more on percussion and piano. “Natural” would ordinarily be a good way to describe this sound, but Ashworth still manages to give the songs the lived-in feel that the rest of his work exhibits (though it doesn’t go anywhere near the brittle lo-fi of Answering Machine Music or Pocket Symphonies For Lonesome Subway Cars). Secondly, there’s a thematic shift; instead of focusing on the ennui and loneliness of youth, Ashworth turns his attention (primarily) to criminals. Criminals and religion. Yeah. You read that right. It’s a weird mix, and it works the best when these two sides of the spectrum are at their most overt, like in the excellent Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In). But as the album winds on, Ashworth’s focus gets cloudier and cloudier, and by the album’s conclusion, he’s trying to balance his old themes with his new ones, and we lose touch with whatever it was he was trying to get at.

Of course, if 2009 has proven anything, it’s that you don’t need to entirely “get” what an album is saying in order for it to be moving and emotionally resonant (see: The Decemberists and Mastodon). That being said, VS. Children resides in a curious musical vortex, wherein too much of the artist’s sound has changed, while not enough of it is different. Personally, I’m not sure if it’s worth trying to wrest the album from there to my brain (and, by extension, my heart). But that’s not to say I won’t try someday. It just means it won’t be today.

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3 Responses to “CASIOTONE FOR THE PAINFULLY ALONE – VS. Children (2009)”

  1. keleighwolf Says:

    This is sad to hear… “Young Shields, “I Love Creedence” & “New Years Kiss” are the type of songs that you play alone, when you feel alone, or on a brittle winter’s night drive to make those umpteen miles go faster, or, rather, more appropriate.

    Criminals & religion actually is a really cool theme to work with, but I’ll have to check this out and see what you mean…

    On a more technical note: first graph,
    “So yes. Not terrible impressed. But now, it is April.”

    Should that not be “Not terribly?”

    Just sayin’.

  2. geniusdoll Says:

    I think you missed the main theme of the whole album. Look at the title, Vs. Children. Most of the songs are about the conflict between having children or not having children, or about relationships between parents and their children. Even most of the songs about criminals are about that dynamic. Give the album another listen, I think you’ll start liking it more. It’s one of my favorite albums of this year. CFTPA’s song writing has never been stronger.

  3. monopolyphonic Says:

    Keleigh – I’m a huge fan of “Scattered Pearls” and “Holly Hobby” as well, though I do admit that the original version of the latter song (which is on the “Advance Base Battery Life” compilation) is growing on me a bit.

    Oh, and thanks for the heads-up on the typo. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am, and shall remain, the World’s Worst Proofreader ™.

    Geniusdoll – the problem I have with the album is that the thematic shift, coupled with the change in instrumentation don’t add up to anything for me. Again, while I don’t completely comprehend the thematic aspects of The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”, or Mastodon’s “Crack The Skye”, the music on each is powerful enough to elicit an emotional response from me.

    With “Etiquette” (the first Casiotone album I heard, and the one I’m most familiar with), Owen created a marvelously bleak and lonely world full of people whose youth (and all the glory therein) are slowing slipping from them. It’s a classic example of a work of art being both simple and profound, and each song was witty as well as melancholy.

    With “VS. Children”, I’m not experiencing the same unity of vision (where the instrumentation serves the thematic material, and vice-versa). I simply hear an album with a few good songs, and that’s it. That being said, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that the album will grow on me with subsequent listens (and there is definitely enough material on it that I like right now to warrant returning to it).

    Which I shall do. There’s not a doubt in my mind about that. It’d be good to be more familiar with album for when I see him live, if nothing else.

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