Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Owen Ashworth writes his characters into states that they can accept as the only bliss they'll have, but he rarely writes them out of their own troubles. Sure, he's the one who's written them into the trouble that they find themselves in the first place, but it usually makes the most sense that they'd stay knee-to-waist deep in those troubles for as love as they should live. Those troubles aren't like a belt, a tie or a noose, anything that you can just slip out of and reverse your shuffle. They are the kinds of troubles that are ground in, little-by-little, an accumulated anchor that will wind up owning these people, if they don't own them first.
Usually, whether it was in a Casiotone For The Painfully Alone song or in one of the songs Ashworth's written for his wonderful new project Advance Base's debut album, "A Shut-In's Prayer," these people seem to have concluded that these lives were custom-made for them and that they're just going to have to deal with them in whatever way they can. They have friends and family members who aren't all that different from them. These troubles that make up these lives are no extraordinary and at times, they're merely worries, but scooped up into one pile, they're formidable.
What Ashworth is so incredible at is in his way of making us give a damn about these people who, on the surface, are just the kind of sad sacks that you'd think we'd just want to ignore and let suffer through their woebegone days alone, without letting any of its contagiousness spread to our lives. These sad sacks are somehow written so perfectly and with such a keen eye that they can look like us so closely. These are the reflections we hate to have to look at, but we couldn't be more aware that they were there. These are the fumbles and the fidgets that we keep to ourselves. They are the pieces of our histories that nest in the deepest wings our hearts - those things we think about when we are absolutely positive that no one's listening, looking or recording.
These Advance Base songs - recorded with Ashworth (electric piano and vocals), Nick Ammerman (autoharp and bass), Edward Crouse (piano and autoharp) and Jody Weinmann (bass, omnichord, organ and vocals) - are extensions of these sentiments, of these drowsy pieces of milieu that we tend to stuff down inside. They are often the pieces of ourselves - not just these characters - that we can't explain too easily, so we don't try. It's a little like Weinmann sings on "Puppy," "My love for you is like a movie script/It doesn't make sense to my friends when I describe it/My love for you is acquired and it's sweet." These are the moments, under pale light, that happen while the television set is the only sound spilling out of a lonely room. These are their accompanying thoughts.