What happens when the former drummer of one of the loudest and most spastic emo bands decides to pick up an acoustic guitar and bare his soul on a solo album? A better question might be, how are the fans who used to love screaming along with the previously mentioned band to the general annoyance of their parents going to adjust to this progression now that they all live in soon-to-be-condemned apartment buildings and eat ramen noodles five times a week? Well, the results aren’t as awful as you might think–not when that former drummer is Mike Kinsella and the album is called Owen.
Kinsella, though only in his mid-20s, is a seasoned Chicago indie-rock veteran, with an impressive resume that includes the aforementioned Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, American Football, and the Owls. Owen is also the name of the “band” that performs this self-titled album; in truth, Kinsella plays all of the instruments. Perhaps his own insecurities have prompted him to try to fool us into thinking that he has some friends that played with him.
We hear insecurities crooned in his own falsetto on “Most days and,” (“Oh it’s sad/Oh I know/the youngness of my young man shows/So please accept my apology/and wait with me”) a track that is indistinguishable from the one that follows, “Most Nights,” which acts more or less as an epilogue to the prior. You can file this album under American Football (the only other project Kinsella has fronted), but Owen steps it down a couple notches on the intensity level, preferring acoustic guitars to the primarily electric American Football full-length.
Acoustic or electric, Kinsella’s pretty little riffs and hooks prove just as melodic. There is an earnestness that makes it hard not to identify with his music. He’s not out to shock us, like his brother Tim, nor is he pandering at the feet of pop-music critics for acceptance. Instead, it seems that he simply wants to share an intimate moment with the listener, something along the lines of a late-night drunken confessional to the stranger sitting next to you at the bar.
These conversations, however, can become annoying at times; the end of “Accidentally,” the album’s fourth track, ends with two minutes of high-pitched feedback that will leave listeners with mind-numbing headaches. And much like a drunk’s slurrings, the tracks on this album tend to blend together. Tracks two and three, five and six (“Declaration of Incompetence” and “You Should Do It Now While It’s On Your Mind”), and eight and nine (“Places to Go” and “Think About It”) all merge together, without any silence in between–a characteristic that would be a flaw under normal circumstances, but seems to be one of the leading attributes of this album. There is something in Kinsella’s simplicity that we find surprising even after nine similar tracks.
Kinsella has made some marked improvements from his efforts with American Football. He has finally found a vocal range that he is comfortable with, and it is obvious that this album went through a much more strenuous post-production effort, making the vocals sound much clearer and adding more electronic effects to the fray, with sequenced drum tracks heavy with delay, reverb and distortion, giving the tracks a thicker sonic aura. Besides American Football, influences from Joan of Arc, a la Live in Chicago ’99, and Very Secretary are easily heard on Owen.
So let’s just admit it–we’re all going soft in our old age. That is, if 21 is old relative to 17. We wear earplugs to shows, we’re starting to amass collections of ties and dress shoes, and, although we’re afraid to admit it, we’re starting to like this acoustic stuff we hear on college radio stations that could just as easily be played on adult contemporary stations. So stop denying it. Put on a sweater, go out and buy this album, and start singing along with the rest of us.