Review : Owen - New Leaves
NoripcordIn his detailed lyrics of innermost uncertainty and near conversational delivery, Mike Kinsella has arguably bridged an intimacy with fans stronger than early Bright Eyes or modern-day Ryan Adams... and that’s no faint praise. Whereas those troubadours often write songs to future or ex-lovers, this Chicago native strips his songs of pretension to the far-end where only he should be blushing. And that’s because, ironically, this project given the name Owen is really The Mike Kinsella Show; a perpetually updated journal that delves so deeply into the man’s vices, guilty pleasures and reckless desires, every narrative is tainted by his twisted perspective, however funny or hungover. In that respect, it makes sense that listening to a new Owen record is like catching up with an old friend, one who is unapologetically nostalgic and frank, but rarely off the mark.
So when this summer’s Seaside EP, a limited release of rare tracks and b-sides, found I Woke Up Today tapering out with a poignant realization (“either I just got kicked in the teeth / or time has changed me”), it registered as a monumental, lyrical cliff-jump for long-time fans. Just like that, the quarter-life crisis that had been boiling beneath the marriage-and-picket-fence existence of At Home With Owen was at once assured and destroyed, giving New Leaves the respectable task of graduating into strange, unsure notions of adulthood. Kinsella confirms as much while drinking with college kids on Never Been Born, discovering his bones feel older when he’s away from home by closing “it’s a young man's game / and about time I quit”. By no means does this chapter-turning imply that Kinsella has been assimilated into big-box suburbia, thank god, as this self-described “house-broken, one-woman man” remains as stubborn and confused as ever. Between skirting responsibility in favour of playing his guitar (Too Scared To Move) and refusing to cater to demanding fans at his shows (Curtain Call), New Leaves presents the same unflinching Kinsella we’ve grown to love. Only now, we’re growing up with him as well....full text
DustedmagazineIt’s interesting that after 20 years spent cashing in on sentimentality, Mike Kinsella’s finally taking the time to reflect on his emotional landscape. New Leaves promises change right in its title, or at least the potential for change. But there’s no re-awakening here. Kinsella starts things off with a tale of how his ever-present “you” spent the fall, but the record never makes it through the winter to get to the rebirth of spring.
It’ll come as no surprise that this is one of Kinsella’s most personal records as Owen. Aren’t they all? But it’s also his most guarded. His typically candid, straightforward songwriting has become a lot more complicated. Where it used to be Mike and his guitar that were the main focus, the rest of the band takes the lead most of the time. An autumnal piano sounds off the record on “New Leaves,” which quickly gives way to the startling unnatural synthesizers on “Good Friends, Bad Habits” and the country band-cum-chamber music of “Amnesia and Me.” The arrangements are bigger, more complex, easier to get lost in, and filled with the typical Owen arpeggios, hammer-offs, and little flourishes that say, “I’ve had a lot of time to really work these songs over.”
As emotionally impenetrable as the instruments are, Kinsella’s own inner song remains even more obscured by uncharacteristically opaque lyrics. Literary allusion has always been a crutch but on this record it’s become more like a motor. His aforementioned good friends with bad habits “fuck like Wilde” and “die like Hemingway.” There’s a classical reference to Hypnos’s court and stasis on “The Only Child of Aergia.” The profanity here is not vulgar or emotional or even insulting, but rather calculated and toothless in a way that only attempts at high modernism are. Lines like “I swear on my mother’s gravy that I didn’t lie to you / I just didn’t tell the truth” don’t even deserve a headshake, because that’d be giving him what he wants....full text
n album about settling down and being a new husband and father has strong potential of being viewed by some listeners as boring. But Owen brainchild Mike Kinsella manages to avoid both fates on his latest effort, "New Leaves." Kinsella (who now records as a solo artist under the name Owen, following a long career in such indie rock bands as Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc and Aloha) plays the same sort of soft ballads found on his previous albums. But don't mistake the softness for weakness. While nothing is as biting as the aging hipster takedown "Femme Fatale" (from his 2006 set "At Home With Owen"), he pulls out the knives and slices pseudo-intellectuals on "A Trenchant Critique." Elsewhere, he accepts domesticity on "Amnesia and Me," giving up his past and declaring, "I know who I am/A housebroken, one-woman man." -Clover Hope...full text
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