with Claire Cronin
Upstairs, All ages
DOORS: 8:30 PM // SHOW: 9:00 PM
Songbyrd Vinyl Lounge
Monday July 1, 2019
Owen Ashworth’s albums have always been about the human condition, and his latest is no exception. That may sound strange, given that it’s called Animal Companionship, but it’s as human as anything he’s done before.
After hearing problems forced the end of his electronic pop project Casiotone for the Painfully Alone in 2010, Ashworth started making quieter music as Advance Base, releasing A Shut-In’s Prayer in 2012, Nephew In The Wild in 2015 and a slew of tapes and 7” EPs in between. After releasing a 2016 live album, In Bloomington, the prodigious songwriter shifted his focus to his label, Orindal Records, and put his efforts into helping other artists release their music.
This break from songwriting gave him time to explore not just how he makes music, but why he’s driven to do so. “I spent a lot of time thinking about why I write songs and what I get out of writing songs,” he said. “It took a while to get back to writing for myself, unselfconsciously.
“The reason I’ve always made music is because it’s therapeutic for me,” he said. “It’s a way of processing my feelings and understanding my subconscious. I love the ritual of writing a song and performing it over and over again until its meaning reveals itself. It’s the closest I get to meditation.”
The meditative nature of Ashworth’s new songwriting process can be heard in Animal Companionship’s spacious arrangements. Blissful drones and lush synthesizer textures envelop soft electric piano arpeggiations and spare drum programming, creating an almost hypnotic backdrop for Ashworth’s lyrical narratives. And the lyrics themselves have found a new focus: dogs.
“There was a while last year when a bunch of different friends of mine were having problems with their dogs,” said Ashworth, “and even though I don’t have a dog, suddenly I was giving all of this dog advice. I was just thinking and worrying about these friends and their dogs all of the time, and dogs just started showing up in my songs.
“When you explain the relationship you have with a pet, it can sound crazy. We all tend to anthropomorphize the animals we love, talking about them as if they're children, siblings, even spouses,” said Ashworth. “I wrote these songs to help myself understand what pets mean to their owners, how those animal relationships affect our human relationships, and vice versa.”
Claire Cronin is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar who writes poetry and non-fiction, but her first and deepest identity is as a singer-songwriter. Big Dread Moon showcases Cronin's distinct dark folk songwriting style, honed through years of self-released recordings and Cronin's literary work. The title of the album comes from a poetry manuscript that Cronin abandoned and which seems to haunt the record in its images and mood. Cronin plays with abstraction and symbolic narrative here, using language that is self-consciously gothic and religious but also grounded in the ordinary world. These songs are personal and emotional but not confessional. They are interested in psychic states.
Big Dread Moon follows Came Down a Storm, a 2016 collaboration between Cronin and Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich. In contrast to the experimentation and tonal shifts of that recording, Big Dread Moon is more delicate and self-contained. These are lyrically-driven songs based around Cronin's voice and electric guitar and her partner Ezra Buchla's viola, approximating the live sound of the duo. Big Dread Moon both marks a return to an earlier mode of writing for Cronin and also a coming into her own as an artist.