Owen is a strange and beautiful little record.
The band and the album are fundamentally a solo project for
Mike Kinsella, who has played with American Football,
Capín Jazz, and Joan of Arc. He has also collaborated
with Kyle Fischer and Cait De Marrais of Rainer
Maria. However, little of his previous work would prepare
the listener for Owen.
The album is presented almost as a single composition, with
one tune softly blending into the next, some tracks acting
as reprises to others, lyrical morsels appearing and reappearing,
and a unifying mood that is both sweet and melancholy. The
sonic heart of the record comprises an acoustic guitar and
a voice that sounds like an effects-drenched Elliott Smith.
On this foundation, layers of multi-tracked guitars are built
and rebuilt, punctuated by electronic drones, chimes, and
surprising moments of silence.
The sprawling, spacious, and aurally luxurious feel of the
music may remind one of the lush space-rock of Spiritualized,
but the lyrical content shares little with Jason Pierceís
drug-addled mysticism. True to his emo roots, Kinsellaís lyrics
stick to earthly topics, such as love, human relationships,
and self-esteem. "Declaration Of Incompetence",
a delightful celebration of self-loathing, contains one of
the recordís surprising lyrical highlights: If you donít
want to see the worst in me, youíve got two choices: cover
your eyes with both hands tight, or just leave.
Owen is a record that surprises at every turn. At
times the songs are simple, strummy acoustic numbers built
loosely around their lyrics, while at other times they are
complicated fingerstyle instrumentals with no discernible
melody. "Accidentally", for example, is an austere
guitar piece, consisting of a repeated guitar figure and ever-increasing
layers of sounds. If it werenít for its six minutes of length,
you might think itís a sweet little interlude, but Kinsella
allows the track to become a composition in its own right.
Later in the record, the same simple guitar figure returns,
but this time as accompaniment to the vocal reprise, "Dead
Men Donít Lie", which is half the length of its instrumental
complement. In the aforementioned "Declaration Of Incompetence",
the individual quiet verses of the song are layered on top
of one another at the end to create a climactic collage. Unless
youíre watching your CD player, you wonít notice as this track
becomes the next, the magnificent "You Should Do It Now
While Itís On Your Mind".
If forced to pin Owen down to a genre, Iíd feel compelled
to create the category "ethereal acoustic". Think
of the quietest and most unassuming Cocteau Twins recordings,
or of the most rootsy Spectrum track, or even of the
spaciest Mazzy Star. Owen is subdued, gentle
music that has the same effect as a soft-talker: you want
to lean in closer to hear what itís all about. When you do,
youíll find that there is, beneath all of that hush and tranquility,
a healthy dose of unrest, anger, and good old-fashioned longing,
all beautifully and painstakingly arranged for your pleasure.
ó Eryc Eyl
- That Which Wasnít Said
- Most Days And
- Most Nights
- Declaration Of Incompetence
- You Should Do It Now While Itís On Your Mind
- Dead Men Donít Lie
- Places To Go
- Think About It
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