Article by KevW
Owen Ashworth's decade or so as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone clearly served him well. Since calling time on that project and reemerging in 2013 as Advance Base, whose acclaimed debut album was released in 2013, he's turned his hand to beat-making for rapper Serengeti, recorded the debut single for psych-folk artist Julie Byrne, co-written and played on Sun Kil Moon's 'Benji' album, produced a fistful of records for artists on his Orindal Records label, and even published a book of drawings. Being multi-talented and in demand can't be a bad thing, although it did mean putting Advance Base on the back-burner for a while, but then two years between albums is hardly eons. The man is no slouch, that's for sure. The shoe is on the other foot to a certain extent with second LP 'Nephew In The Wild', as its his turn to have guests on his recordings, including members of Boduf Songs, Okkervil River and Gigi amongst others.
This is a cosy, wintry album of Americana-brushed indiepop songs, and that effect is enhanced by the leafless tree on the cover, as well as the inclusion of two Christmas songs, something that should be totally out of place on an August release. 'Christmas In Dearborn' isn't all sleigh bells and Phil Spector production though, it's a soft and subtle, semi-acoustic, countryish track that talks of the oddly comforting boredom that can occur on that day. It's really quite beautiful. More uptempo but still Chrismassy in some of its lyrical content is 'Christmas In Milwaukee' which manages to bring in power chord keys, a slowly booming beat and a twinkling instrumental break. With lyrics about cars being broken into and having "trouble enough" without having to think about any festivities, it's deceivingly sad. Following it with a song called 'Summon Satan' could have been a stark contrast were the theme different though. Again, this isn't a happy song, focusing on the worry and loneliness of an anonymous person who tried to solve their problems in perhaps the wrong way.
From the cracking fuzz and thumping beat of the ace 'Trisha Please Come Home' (a song that's full of Casio tones...) to the solemn and maudlin closer 'Kitty Winn', 'Nephew In The Wild' is an interesting mix of keyboards, different kinds of beats, Ashworth's almost baritone delivery, production and arrangements that are often quite sparse but are perfect for these songs, and lyrics that sound like they're the work of an unhappy soul (there's an air of resignation as he sighs "I'm not out looking for something I haven't found, you won't see me around, I've got a family now"). 'Nephew In The Wild' should be a downer on paper, but the elegance, personal touch and quality of every track (not one can be counted as filler) give a totally different impression. Yes, 'The Only Other Girl From Back Home' is hardly a sunny pop song, but it doesn't wallow in self-pity, and is quite grandiose in its own little way. The matter-of-fact nature of the title-track's lyrics (again Christmas crops up) could just be miserable in another person's hands, but here its elegant and touching. There is a lighter moment when 'My Love For You Is Like A Puppy Underfoot' comes along. The only co-written song on the album, guest vocalist Jody Weinmann adds a sweet touch that's not unlike something Camera Obscura may produce. 'Nephew In The Wild' shouldn't work, not at this time of year, it feels totally out of kilter. Yet Advance Base has pulled it off perfectly, making the pitfalls and repetition of life into a gorgeous collection of songs that will only grow as the leaves begin to turn golden.
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