Advance Base – Nephew In The Wild (Orindal)

Nephew In The Wild is Owen Ashworth’s second album as Advance Base, having previously recorded as far back as the late-’90s as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. It’s my first exposure to Ashworth’s music, so I can’t compare it to his discography, but I like what I hear. The songs are very low-key, with drum machines, an Omnichord, Autoharp, bass, drums and samplers creating a warm and twinkly sonic environment for Ashworth’s sad lyrics, usually about lonely people in the Midwestern United States. If a collection of songs about dead-end people working marginal jobs and living pretty crappy lives doesn’t sound like a good time, it isn’t. However, Ashworth’s a gifted storyteller, painting very vivid portraits of the characters and places he sings about. I especially like how he mentions specific locations and names in his songs. Whether he’s getting stoned to Thin Lizzy, making calls on a Citgo payphone, or delivering a pair of songs titled “Christmas in Dearborn” and “Christmas in Milwaukee”, you know exactly where his characters are and what they’re doing. He’s also got a strong sense of melody, a rich baritone-ish voice that recalls Bill Callahan (Smog), and great guest spots from Howard Draper (who drops mournful lap steel guitar onto “Christmas in Dearborn”), and Jody Weinmann who sings “My Love For You Is Like A Puppy Underfoot,” adding a sense of lightness to the album. It ends with “Kitty Winn,” the album’s saddest sounding song, yet its lyrics tell the story of someone who’s started a family and won’t be seen “around” anymore, giving you a sense of hope that maybe one of Ashworth’s characters escaped the bleak lifestyle of the last nine songs and found something better for themselves.