For all the hours I wasted perusing Justin Whye’s defunct MP3 blog (“Listen Closer”), I only ever downloaded one song, but I probably put it on every mix CD I’ve made since then. “Roberta C.,” from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s 2003 album Twinkle Echo, is the perfect third track: throbbing hook, woodpecker backbeat, and a mesmerizing vocal that commands your attention and then cracks you up.
“Carson, Flannery, and Jerome/line the bookshelves at home,” laments the narrator, who’s “a listless intellectual in her prime/Scrabble high score 409.” She’s a writer too, who left “a note on the bed/’True love is hard to find.’ ” CFTPA is the nom de mope of San Franciso’s Owen Ashworth. If Stephin Merritt is the Stephen Foster of DIY synthpop, deconstructing romance with droll precision, Ashworth might be Bert Williams, swaying around the beat to simultaneously emphasize and unpack his melancholy. There’s a new version of “Roberta” on a limited edition TomLab single; it’s slightly more unhinged than the original, with a desperate buzz in the Casio and some Davol-ish strings. There are only 500 of the things, but maybe some blogger will post it. Better get surfing.