Local Grooves

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Twinkle Echo (Tomlab)

Bay Area native Owen Ashworth, a.k.a. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, has always sung in a raspy, breathy, and deep voice, but nowadays he sounds gruffer, like a mix between the old Ashworth, David Gedge, and a touch of Morrissey. It's appropriate, then, that his third and latest album, Twinkle Echo, is an homage to the Smiths. The most obvious dedication, "Toby, Take a Bow," is a clever reworking of various Morrissey lyrics that tells the tale of the ultimate Smiths fan; Ashworth sings, "There is a boy and he never goes out." Others like "Jeane, If You're Ever in Portland" and "1/2 Ghost" are more oblique references that only die-hard Smith-ophiles would catch.

As always, Ashworth relies heavily on his lyrical command – he has an uncanny ability to set a scene, observe, and point out the tiny details, and make listeners shiver in eerie recognition of themselves, or someone they know, in the context of his dulcet narratives. The simple, repetitive beats, the haunting vibrato of sustained keyboard chords, and the lo-fi quality help determine the mood – sometimes tender, sometimes wistful, and sometimes ominous. This one's a keeper. (Sarah Han)

Andre Nickatina (a.k.a. Dre Dog)
Conversation with a Devil: Cocaine Raps No. 3 (Fillmoe Coleman)

The Slayer box set comes out soon, and it's going to be mega. In the meantime, you should buy Andre Nickatina's Conversation with a Devil: Cocaine Raps No. 3 – it's better than gnomes annihilating ogres.

Nickatina earned a bunch of fans a few years ago with his album Daiquiri Factory: Cocaine Raps Volume 2 (Fillmoe Coleman), and this CD (which comes with a DVD movie) is likely to draw a lot more. His voice, old-school flow, and excellent beats ensure his place in the long list of Bay Area hip-hop royalty. With end-to-end banging beats and one-liners like "Smellin' so cute in my Sean John suit" paired with rugged lines such as "I hate bitches with a passion," Nickatina keeps the listener interested and entertained for the duration of this 15-song jammer. The beat on "Dice of Life" sounds like Bilbo Baggins making an entrance at the royal elf ball. Harps are strummed, the beat thumps, Nickatina announces he walks around like he was God, and the chorus goes, "Me and my homies love the bottle / Mike Tyson loves Cus D'Amato!" The song is so happy even Sauron will smile.

Bored Stiff heavy hitter Equipto guests on "Falcon and the Snowman" over an electro beat with an opera sample. San Quinn guests on "A Yo" and rips the track apart. "Rise and Fall of a Rap Cat" is a slow and beautiful guitar loop over which Nickatina sings, "How can I have so much love for the game / I'm so ashamed." It's sweet, sad, inspiring, and scary. Andre Nikatina performs Fri/31, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa. (707) 545-4200. (Nate Denver)

October 22, 2003