Things have changed in Owen Ashworth’s world. The low-tech joy of beeping keyboards that his listeners are familiar with are absent from his latest release, replaced by the fuller sound of pianos, mellotrons and organs. As if to signify this, the record opens with a cascade of rolling harps, different samples melded together into a warm and delicate mess, making sure the listener is paying attention.
The album starts proper with a song inspired by the exploits of Tom Justice, the ‘Choir Boy Robber’, which sets the tone for the next thirty minutes as Ashworth looks to the criminal life for inspiration. Set against some gorgeously tinny piano, his perennially downbeat voice acts as the criminal’s conscience to fine effect.
Juxtaposed against all this imagery of wayward youth and misdeeds is the theme of parenthood, presented as a kind of crossroads decision that cannot be reversed, and showing how both parents and criminals can simply be people who made life-changing mistakes. This tactic, though it sounds dubious, becomes devastating in -Killers’ as the narrator persuades his lover to take the morning-after pill: ‘We could be killers / Just for one night.’
Elsewhere, his strength for melody and making the most out of the simplest songs is as impressive as ever, as standout track -Northfield, MN’ proves. Julie Lispector’s soft backing vocals do well to take the edge off of his gloomy delivery – at points he sounds like a mix of Eeyore and Brian Cowen . Despite these fine interludes, there’s simply no denying that it’s the meld of upbeat pop and doleful storytelling that makes Vs. Children so affecting. You might not be too cheery after listening, but it’s a gorgeous way to spend half an hour.