Thanks to his involvement with extremely successful projects like American Football, Joan of Arc, and Cap’n Jazz you may think you know who Mike Kinsella is. However, to really get to know Mike Kinsella, you first need to get to know Owen.
an effort to circumvent the preconceptions tethered to being a solo
singer-songwriter, Kinsella began recording under the pseudonym Owen,
releasing his self-titled debut in 2001. Though many saw
the album as a logical, almost predictable continuation of where
American Football left off, Owen was wholly a solo effort, as Kinsella
performed, recorded, and mixed the entire work in his home studio. Sonically speaking, Owen was
not a vast departure from American Football, but the work was a clear
signifier that when given complete artistic control, Kinsella had the
ability to create some notable music.
Over the next decade, Owen
released five more LPs, each album sounding progressively more
mature, developed, and self-realized, his efforts ultimately culminating in Ghost Town.
Written in the wake of his daughter’s birth, Ghost Town
is a story of self-reflection and a sonic account of Kinsella
attempting to cope with the deep-rooted, often painful ghosts of his
past: specifically, the death of his father, with whom he had a volatile
Produced by Brian Deck (Iron and Wine) and Neil Strauch (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) the release is everything you’d expect out of an album titled Ghost Town. It’s beautifully haunting, extremely emotive, and deeply personal. The production
is pleasantly reflective of Owen’s past work; many of the tracks on the
album (including "Too Many Moons" and "Mother’s Milk Breath") still have
that raw acoustic sound mixed with rich string arrangements.
However, it's important to note that although Ghost Town
carries many of the same components found in past Owen albums, this
collection of tracks marks a more forceful and varied
instrumental style replete with aggressive elements that were mostly absent from Kinsella’s earlier work. Most notably, album closer "Everyone’s Asleep in the House But Me" ends with a seriously forceful
electric guitar solo that is all but Owen-esque, reminding the
listener that yes, Kinsella does own an amp and distortion
peddle and no, he is not afraid to use them.
Though musically the album is a slight departure from what long-time fans may be used to, the lyrical imagery throughout Ghost Town
is spot-on Owen, arguably his best writing to date. Early in the
record you're plunged into the painful world of Kinsella’s
regret, emerging steeped in
sorrow at the album's close.
On "No Place Like Home" Kinsella sings "We leave at dusk/ With
only that with which we can carry/ Whatever is left gets burned or
buried/ For if by chance we return/ I’ll leave a note/ To whom it may
concern/ Fuck you and your front lawn/ I’d rather die with my hands tied
and holding a gun/ There’s no place like home for collecting burdens."
Motifs of unresolved anger and compunction are prominent throughout Ghost Town, culminating in "No Language"'s
confession, "I guess I’m still angry/ Punching walls that look like you."
Ultimately, Ghost Town is an outstanding work. Long-time Owen fans will
appreciate a new release, while those who found his past full-lengths
somewhat monotonous are sure to enjoy the new-found attitude the
instrumentation on Ghost Town lends. However, what really makes this album outstanding is the profound sincerity that Kinsella puts into his music.
samples, beats, patches, and plug-ins increasingly dominate today’s
modern scene, it's becoming exponentially more difficult to truly
connect with an artist through their music. This is not so with Owen.
The candor intricately laced throughout Ghost Town is truly a rarity in a music industry that celebrates personas rather than people.
To really get to know Mike Kinsella, all you have to do is listen.
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