Owen | At Home With (Polyvinyl)

cd_owenOwen's latest CD is everything you've come to expect from Kinsella, and more. It's even more understated, if that's possible, with richly woven strings and chords backing Kinsella's frail yet competent vocals and revealing tales.

 

Owen is one man, Mike Kinsella. Mike Kinsella used to be in American Football, an undersung indie duo from the late '90s. (He also played in Joan of Arc, Cap'n Jazz, and the Owls.) Kinsella writes quiet, mellow songs with intricate chord progressions and instrument arrangements. According to Polyvinyl's site, Owen is Kinsella on vocals, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, loops, etc. (You see where I'm going with this, right?)

Owen's latest CD, At Home With, is everything you've come to expect from Kinsella, and more. It's even more understated, if that's possible, with richly woven strings and chords backing Kinsella's frail yet competent vocals and revealing tales. It's well produced, carefully recorded and mixed, reflecting a crisp studio sound rather than the bedroom production we've come to expect.

Kinsella builds layer upon layer to craft album intro "Bad News," delivering the aforementioned in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner: "Whatever it is you think you are, you aren't:/ a good friend, unique, well-read, good-looking, smart/ well, now you know." Following that damning yet beautiful revelation, "The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crispi" begins with a strummed false start. After admitting, "I don't want to die alone," Kinsella asks, "Could you love someone completely?/ And yes, by ‘someone,' I mean me/ spoiled sick like milk you let sit too long/ it's a simple question."

"A Bird in Hand" is a blissed-out, dreamy anthem with soothing backing vocals and woven instrumentation. "You know what you are to me," sings Kinsella, "don't make me say it." Later he admits, "I'm sick of all my choices/ like the grownups I grew up with/ angels and addicts." Stark, somber, revealing, it's Owen at his best. The scratchy guitar introduced two-thirds through—combined with the song's seven-and-a-half-minute length—puts this song in another league.

The cover of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" fits so well into Owen's style that, at first, it doesn't register as somebody else's song. And when Kinsella sings, "She's just a little cock tease," it's further cemented as his. "One of These Days" brings the album to a string-filled close. "One of these days," Kinsella threatens, "I'll get a real job/ one that actually pays/ like my dad." We Owen fans hope that day is none too soon; we're not ready to give this dreamy teller of truths back to the real world just yet.

At Home With is an album that was made for headphones and quiet introspection, for reading along with the lyrics and finding your own truths. Not a party or background album, to be sure, but as the only entertainment in a candlelit room, by yourself at night but definitely not alone. A- | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Red House Painters, Rocky Votolato

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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