Owen | Ghost Town (Polyvinyl)

These may be quiet songs, but they’re anything but simple.

 

 

Say what you want about Mike Kinsella, but at least he’s consistent. And honest. Oh, sure, sometimes his relating may sound a bit like whining, but hang in there. If you listen—really listen—you’ll find something that speaks to someplace deep inside you. And you’ll be a better person for it.

Stylistically, an Owen album is an Owen album, no matter the name. It’s low-key, mellow, textured, layered, and a bit plaintive. Before I get into a discussion of Kinsella’s words, though, I want to call attention to the layer upon layer of instrumentation. These may be quiet songs, but they’re anything but simple. There’s so much texture, you’ll find new things to remark upon with each listen.

Disc opener “Too Many Moons” is the perfect example of Kinsella’s talent in this regard. Loops and layers take over the song after the lyrics end, enrapturing the listener. Up next, “No Place Like Home” is also impressive. Here, his look at “home” is anything but pristine: “I’d rather die with my hands tied/ than holding a gun.” The song flits through bad neighbors and ghosts and insecurities, never quite finding comfort in any one place.

“All that I need is to know that I’ll know you when you’re older,” Kinsella sings to kick off the next song, “O, Evelyn…” Lending emphasis, he says further, “Don’t die before I do.” More down-tempo than its predecessors, the track gives way to “I Believe” and its beautiful keys-and-acoustic opening. This song’s a revelation: “Hallelujah, I just found Jesus.” Next, Kinsella somehow manages to write a song about a piece of furniture—“The Armoire”—and pull it off. The almost-intrusive electric guitar halfway through manages to fit perfectly.

“I did my time/ endless days and nights/ paid for my sins/ so I could come back/ and sin again.” The laid back delivery of this line somehow makes it all the more poignant; were it sung in anger, it could come off as something of a cliché. At about the two-minute mark, the electric guitar rises to a crescendo, cutting into Kinsella’s words before the music takes over altogether.

“No Language” is a song about cause and effect, consequences and escapes. On “Mother’s Milk Breath,” Kinsella explores new(ish) parenthood. “When the sun gets tired,” he tells the child (“Little Miss Mother’s Milk Breath), “I’ll hang the moon.” Closing out Ghost Town is the richly woven “Everyone’s Asleep in the House but Me.” Here, the lyrical understatement fits perfectly: a man trying to stay quiet while the rest of the family is asleep. While the music swells and swirls, he explores the reasons for his insomnia.

In short, Ghost Town is nothing new. It’s Owen. But that alone makes it a worthwhile investment of your time and ears. B+ | Laura Hamlett

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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