If you’re looking for an album of gaudy, bell-jingling, nauseatingly joyful Christmas anthems, Owen Ashworth’s Christmas mixtape is not the one for you. Instead, this mixture of electronic pop and singer-songwriter style is a moving and relatable exploration of the often less talked about feelings which accompany the ‘season of joy’.
Ashworth presents his festive-themed songs from both his days under the name Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and his latest work as the rebranded Advance Base as a ‘gift to you, a stranger’. The mixtape does, in fact, feel like a comforting and sympathetic gift for those who are feeling lonely, nostalgic or melancholy over Christmas. Whilst we are bombarded with Christmas adverts, films and pop songs telling us that this season is full of cheer, gloomier emotions felt by some during this time are often skimmed over by mainstream media. However, Ashworth’s mixtape delves into these feelings with a sense of understanding, something which has characterised much of his work.
The mixtape is certainly the kind of music you could imagine chilling to during the quieter times of the Christmas holidays: travelling home, or during the lull after visitors have left, or when you find yourself on your own. It is not something to be played at parties or celebrations, but something deeply personal. Its Springsteen-influenced style and haunting vocals truly lend to the melancholy lyrics, which often are from the perspective of various ‘characters’ over Christmas. For example, ‘Christmas In Dearborn’ is from the perspective of a woman who is feeling nostalgic as she visits home for Christmas. Meanwhile, ‘Cold White Christmas’ follows a lonely and disillusioned post-graduate whose aspirations have amounted to nothing and who feels too ashamed to return home. These aren’t the stories that we typically hear about over Christmas – they are the stories of the forgotten, the ordinary and the melancholy.
One of the standout songs for me is ‘Traveling Salesman’s Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT’. Unlike most of the other songs on the mixtape, it sounds fairly upbeat – although, of course, the song’s lyrics are just as forlorn. Ashworth’s love for the keyboard is particularly clear here, if it were not already apparent from his previous moniker Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.
All in all, even if you love all the festivity and joy of Christmas, it can be good to acknowledge the mix of emotions that the holidays bring about. So if you have a spare 25 minutes, have a listen to Owen Ashworth’s gift to you, the stranger.