It says something about a man when his chief fixations are felonies, dead or absent parents and spouses, and unplanned pregnancy. Chicago native Owen Ashworth extracts a surprising range of emotions from these subjects on Vs. Children, the latest release under his project Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. He finds new life in classic poetic tropes—the beat-up old car with a history, the doomed bank-robbing lovers, the pregnant neglected wife—and also throws a few curve balls of his own into the mix, like the startled couples dealing with unplanned pregnancy on “Killers” and “Harsh The Herald Angels Sing.”
For all of his fascination with the most raw, poignant facets of humanity, Ashworth completely resists sentimentality. His songs paint deliberate, exacting portraits of his characters, into which sympathy only rarely makes an appearance. His deadpan delivery, set to the backdrop of a stomping drum machine, underscores the detached, observational tone of the album. While this controlled approach is brutally effective and often beautiful, listeners may find themselves wondering what would happen if Ashworth would allow himself to let go of his restraint. The only hint of a crack in his hipster reserve comes on “Optimist Vs. The Silent Alarm (When The Saints Go Marching In),” when he briefly loses himself to the giddy abandon of the escaping couple in this Bonny and Clyde-esque love story. It’s a welcome moment of release on a stunning and well-crafted album.