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Advance Base - A Shut-In's Prayer (Orindal Records) 

Owen Ashworth’s exquisite, haunting new record trades in estrangement

While it's true that Owen Ashworth has grown more serious with age — no songs about mouse infestations here — the evolutionary justifications for his retirement of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone are exaggerated. His exquisite, haunting new record as Advance Base, A Shut-In's Prayer, carries forward from the palpable resignation of CFTPA's Vs. Children. The production's slightly fuller, the creaky sound of flawed recording spaces giving way to chasms of ache, the melodies more complex, but it's the same weirdly stirring cry as ever.

The preoccupation is estrangement: from old friends, from family, forgotten traditions ("Christmas in Oakland" prompts a mournful "I don't feel a thing"). Using repeated melodic lines in the insular Pet Sounds sense, Ashworth keeps the old toy piano sound while waltzing into oblivion on lyrics that don't seem profound until he sings them in that tremendously affecting deadpan. It's a kind of "Do You Remember Walter" / "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" world, where you're choked up by phrases as simple as "the sound of music from the kitchen boom box" and "outside a sports bar in neon light" and all the fiercely fragmented memories they evoke.

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January 20, 2020

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