01 January 2008

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - 'New Year's Kiss'

By now, the whole world of course knows about Daytrotter. The idea is brilliant and simple: when suitable bands tour themselves around the country we know as America, they are invited to stop off at a town called Rock Island (about which I'd like to retain my own mental picture, thanks, without adding any factual details to spoil it) and record a session. Brevity usually encourages a stripped-down, somewhat acoustic sound, which obviously suits some better than others, and there's a distinct lean towards Americana in what they offer. It's part of the jigsaw, but not the whole jigsaw. We are not Uncut magazine here, after all. This is, you feel, a world where Bonnie Prince Billy is revered as a god, and Iron and Wine as at least a minor deity (but hey, I really liked that last Iron and Wine LP, you know, played it a lot).

And what do you want, you miserable bastards, anyway? It's regularly updated, it's done with wit, it's free, it's legal, so none of that liberal guilt you get from downloading MP3s (you do get liberal guilt, I hope?) and it has a great cartoon strip too. Just now I grabbed a session by the Papercuts (it's okay... heard-it-before gentle indie) and a couple by the Dirty Projectors (despite myself I've recently found I've warmed to their pretentious art thing).

Anyway, Casiotone. They/he are/is utterly wonderful, and if you don't know this already, just what the hell do you think you've been doing with yourself for the last few years? Owen Ashworth is a short story writer and film-maker who just happens to work through the medium of short, bittersweet, observational pop songs. Cheap, generic keyboard sounds bang their noses against glimpses of stories, shards of life, snapshots of lives lived on the margins or in surprised disappointment, with these occasional moments of hope. Vocally, and in his ability to wring sad poetry from the mundane, he reminds me a bit of David Gedge of the wrongly-maligned Wedding Present. His 2006 LP, Etiquette, is a modern masterpiece. I hardly ever go back to old stuff - the new listening pile only seems to totter further upwards - but I still listen to this a lot. More instruments and voices are added to the brew in this one, and on the whole, and somewhat messily, love triumphs. Get it from Tomlab, which would be our record label of the year, or something, if we did such things here.

My favourite tune on there, over time, is probably New Year's Kiss, which resurfaces in a new form in this recent Daytrotter session. To be honest, I prefer the original, but I felt like making a lame stab at topicality, what with the recent arbitrary date change. Go here to download the songs. And don't miss the first session, too, which includes a heart-breakingly definitive reading of Tonight Was A Disaster.

There are mercifully few songs about New Year, compared to the endless glut of Christmas tunes. (Anyone, by the way, who has ever seen fit to give a spin to the appalling U2's ghastly bombastic offering on 1 January is surely going to hell.) New Year's Eve is, of course, the single worst night of any year, an annual wankers' charter where the basest excesses of group mentality are not only tolerated but positively encouraged. It is an evening to shun humanity. (This one just past I counter-intuitively went to the theatre, and then, after pushing my way through Sodom and Gomorrah crowds to get the tube, made my way safely indoors ere midnight. I always say that the perfect New Year's Eve involves a locked door and a bottle of scotch, which if I got the timings right would see me snugly passed out by eleven.)

Anyway, yer man Owen gets it spot on as usual, capturing the anticlimax which greets each January 1st, with this tale of a girl's less than perfect NYE encounter, from waking up in a strange boy's bed backwards. He's one of the few men around who can write as good a song from a woman's point of view as a man's. Every line's a delight from first to last, and I'll long treasure a phrase about 'champagne lips'. I'm currently learning to play guitar, largely so next December 31st I can head down Embankment tube station and busk this to an unappreciative crowd.

Next stop, Half Man Half Biscuit's Epiphany, January 6th.

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