Ahhh, the lonesome lo-fi bedside crooners. With Elliot Smith in permanent seppuku slumber, those of us who like to nauseate over depressive howlers will have to turn to the likes of crash-'n'-bash four-track phenoms like San Francisco's Casiotone for the Painfully Alone for our overdetermined, intelligent languor.
Armed with nothing more than a Casio keyboard, its canned beats, a very few chords and a heart-sleeve in his throat, Owen Ashworth has put the synth back in sincere, the hymen back in rhymin' and lots of other words back into words that contain other words, frankly.
While his eponymous self-released debut was even more virginally brilliant and littered with the sparkling shards of unceremoniously shattered glass hearts, Twinkle Echo is full of the same deadpan, under-produced simplicity that made his first record so great.
My favorite track is "Toby, Take a Bow" -- an empathetic song about a pathetic Smiths fan with un-friggin'-believable lines like: Gold medal and a crown/ A cardigan and a frown/ All maladjusted and clever/ The greatest Smiths fan ever/ Your picture in the paper and the captions shout/ There is a boy and he never goes out. Exquisite reification of Smiths lines aside, the song is just downright pretty.
Also perfectly maudlin in that New Order way so few have approached are "Hey Eleanor," "Half Ghost" and "Calloused Fingers Won't Make You Strong, Edith Wong" (Now you've got first chair/ but a broken heart won't mend/ when your cello's your only friend and You can hide at the cinema/ You've got the money to spend/ But the movies always end/ And then it's your life again)
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Hot Shit Touch and Go Records
In 1998, Portland-based Quasi (Sam Coomes from Heatmiser; Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney) made Featuring "Birds" -- one of the most swooningly perfect indie-rock albums of the late '90s. With songs of heartbreak and love like "I Never Want to See You Again," "The Poisoned Well" (a prophetic little ditty about Elliot Smith's propensity to "document his suicide") and "It's Hard to Turn Me On," the duo's more politically idealistic impulses, made palatable by swelling organ melodies and snazzy drum hooks, were made to seem part of that larger thing called "life." Unfortunately, most of Quasi's other recordings are wildly forgettable, though by no means worthy of derision. Hot Shit falls into this category. Like the Modern Lovers, Quasi's lasting influence will probably come from the one true album they really had in them.