Posted on July 4th, 2013 (7:03 am) by N. Neal Paradise

KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. This phrase may seem pat, but it has application to more things than you may think. In music, this principle means subtracting instead of adding, using less instrumentation instead of more, having a lack of vocal histrionics, and letting the music speak for itself. Now, I’m all for fancy production techniques and complicated musicianship. But we cannot forget that sometimes something is more beautiful the more naked it is.

Owen Ashworth understands this – maybe a little too well. Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, his erstwhile solo project, has magically transformed into Advance Base (don’t get excited – it’s just a name change). Ashworth has released one album under the new name, A Shut-In’s Prayer, and his simplistic approach to electronic music has slightly shifted to an even sparser motif.

Ashworth’s music centers around the Casiotone, one of the first commercially available synthesizers marketed to the public, not just professional musicians. With Advance Base, he’s stripped down things even further, often only employing two or three instruments and vocals, more like a (GASP!) rock band. With his first Advance Base EP, The World is In a Bad Fix Everywhere, he has trimmed it to the bare essentials. And in that, Ashworth is finding greater and greater depths of beauty.

If you’re actively searching for obscurity to make yourself stand out (maybe you’re seeing too many beards, flannel shirts and skinny jeans around you), it doesn’t get any better than this. The World is In a Bad Fix Everywhere is a collection of five cover songs, the original artist for all of them being Washington Phillips, a 1930s black musician/gospel preacher. And what was Wash Phillips’ instrument of choice? Two fretless autoharps side by side. His lyrics were unabashedly evangelical Christian in nature, some of them being merely short sermons followed by a zither instrumental. It’s even thought that Phillips crafted the zithers himself. All this would send a hipster into a sputtering incoherence of joy; there are just so many things here for which he can say “You’ve probably never heard of it…”

It may have oodles of hipster cache value, but I can’t help thinking that none of it is Owen Ashworth’s fault. Even if it is, The World is In a Bad Fix Everywhere is just so freakin’ beautiful that any outside fraudulence it creates is forgivable. The five songs, two of which are instrumental, weave a powerful atmosphere that moves with such a whisper you might forget it’s there. The opener “Lift Him Up That’s All” sets the table for the meal that’s to come, easing you into what promises to be a very mild affair. The heart slows, the breath evens, and the eyes become little more than slits.

“Mother’s Last Word to Her Son,” like all of Wash Phillips’ songs, is disarmingly frank, yet has a gentle touch. Ashworth’s voice, frail and kind of weepy by objective standards, finds its perfect musical match in this type of music. In fact, the entire EP sounds like it’s made out of the thinnest of glass – one wrong move could shatter it. Luckily, the listener doesn’t feel the need to move at all, so palpable is the sense of calm and peace the music promotes.

There are no surprises here, no shocks to the system or hairpin turns. And to our jittery, no-attention-span society, there’s nothing at all in The World is In a Bad Fix Everywhere. It’s only when we stop, take a breath, and think about the space we’re moving through that we are in a place where music like Advance Base can work to its fullest effect. It’s only then that we can truly appreciate the beauty of things.

Track List:
1. Lift Him Up That’s All
2. Mother’s Last Word to Her Son
3. Train Your Child
4. Paul & Silas In Jail
5. I Had a Good Father & Mother

Advance Base - The World is In a Bad Fix Everywhere
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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