Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Etiquette

[Tomlab; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie electronica
Others: Xiu Xiu, The Mountain Goats, The Postal Service

Etiquette is the latest album culled from Owen Ashworth's bag of cheap instrument tricks. Since he's not as Casio-minimal as past efforts this time around, there is more to chew and chip a tooth on now. He maintains his songwriting style—direct narratives delivered with a deadpan speech—but it is more talk than sing, the voice unaffected by the racket going on behind. This dryness of voice—this subdued and tempered emotion—just doesn't contain enough nuance, intonation, or inflection, the way, say, the voice of Buck 65 once did. And he doesn't manage to get away with these lacking qualities in the way Ben Gibbard does.

One example where the vocal presence does equate with the music is on "Cold White Christmas." This isn't so much due to Ashworth stretching his voice, but simply the music coincidentally complying with the vocal. The guest vocals on the album actually outshine many of Ashworth's performances; nowhere is this more evident than on the stellar "Holly Hobby." The fuzzy Pet Sounds-esque drums and a sweet little melody make the song not only memorable, but the album's standout.

The electronics sometimes create a sound very reminiscent of The Postal Service, and the kids adore that, of course. On "Nashville Parthenon" and "Bobby Malone Moves Home," Ashworth's pokerfaced voice trails over music that could be stolen direct from Jimmy Tamborello's hard drive.

There's something to be said for the capturing of essentially minor-character life accounts in song and giving them added importance through music; however, their actual impact in reality is weak at best. Nonetheless, Owen Ashworth's lyrical specificity is appreciated. These are vignettes, quick glimpses into the melodramatic lives of individuals, and the short, abrupt musical handling matches this mode of lyric writing.

1. Etiquette I.D.
2. New Year's Kiss
3. Young Shields
4. I Love Creedence
5. Nashville Parthenon
6. Scattered Pearls
7. Happy Mother's Day
8. Holly Hobby (Version)
9. Cold White Christmas
10. Bobby Malone Moves Home
11. Don't They Have Payphones Wherever You Were Last Night
12. Love Connection

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