Mike Kinsella has done a lot of time in the Chicago indie-etc. scene, in bands like Cap’n’Jazz, American Football and Joan of Arc. But his most personal music is made in his solo project Owen (no I don’t know the significance of the name). Much of the Owen music has been lo-fi and acoustic, but The King Of Whys is a fully-fledged big-production record. Out on Wichita.
CD £9.99 WEBB485CD
Digipak CD on Wichita.
Vinyl LP £16.99 WEBB485LPC
Orange coloured vinyl LP on Wichita.
- Coloured vinyl
- Includes download code
8/10 Alex 2nd August 2016
'The King Of Whys' is Owen's 9th studio album (including 2014 cover album 'Other People's Songs'), and the first featuring original songs since 2013's 'L'Ami du Peuple'. For this album Mike Kinsella recruited Sean Carey of Bon Iver to produce what is possibly his most cohesive release to date.
Kicking off with a single acoustic guitar, opener 'Empty Bottle' then thumps into action with layers of bass, guitar, piano and percussion driving the song forward. Kinsella sings of nights at a "crowded goth show" before the music plunges underwater and into his dreams where "the floor is made of glass". This song works well as an introduction to the album, both thematically and musically. The soundscape of this album is fairly standard Owen on the surface; All songs are driven by an acoustic guitar with percussion, bass and other instruments added around it. However, it's the production of this that sets 'The King Of Whys' apart from its predecessors.
For instance, album highlight 'Tourniquet' begins with Kinsella playing a typical Owen riff on his acoustic guitar. However as the song progresses, more sounds are added gradually with cymbals, drums, piano, synths, horns and even samples of what sounds like broken glass blending together in the mix. All small details, but they combine to create a beautifully rich arrangement unlike almost anything else in Owen's catalogue.
Other highlights include 'Lovers Come And Go', which could probably fit on 2004's 'I Do Perceive' both in terms of music and lyrics, and the deceptively upbeat 'A Burning Soul', a song about his father's alcoholism in which he doesn't particularly sympathise nor does he condemn him; a stance that is common throughout the album.
In all, you know what you're getting with Owen; Beautiful and genuinely affecting acoustic-based music with honest emotion behind it. However, this album is not about finding answers or explanations for these emotions, Kinsella merely offers snapshots which in the end pose more questions than answers.
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