January 03, 2002

Mike Kinsella is Owen. Owen is Mike Kinsella. That name again--Mike Kinsella. You know him, I swear to you, you know who he is! He was a boy wonder in Cap'n Jazz, he's the brother of modern day poet Tim Kinsella, and was guilty by association in Joan of Arc, Owls, and led his own group of hooligans in American Football. You've heard him, even if you don't know his name. Of course his profile fits his music--loudly quiet. Some might say his music is full of emotional, slightly emotion-packed, emotionally charged. Of course, that's a bit disingenuous, and slightly unfair to say that Owen is "emo." Understandable, but unfair.

Like American Football, Owen is a downbeat, downcast, slightly sad affair, with touches of jazz---which nods to the rather obscure mid-80s British poetic folk-popsters, Eyeless in Gaza. I'm assuming that this record is Mike all by himself, as there's no mention of other artists on the sleeve, and no other voices, except the occasional faint, haunting voice of a female voice. For the most part, there's nothing else going on than occasional keyboard, percussion and bass behind Kinsella's mopey-eyed singing. Suffice to say, Owen is not a sunny-day record at all.

Owen is a very gentle record. Unlike his other groups, Owen never really delves into overt experimentation; while there are small strokes of sonic playfulness, there's never anything that would warrant an "experimental" tag on this group. Perhaps Kinsella does not wish to take many risks with the musical accompaniment out of fear of the music overweighing the song. It's a fair reason; perhaps he realizes the varying amount of success that occurred when Joan of Arc tried to make "statements" with their music.

Sadly, Owen's simplicity proves to be its Achilles heel. Owen, while nice, suffers from a polite blandness that makes the songs run together rather anonymously. "You Should Do It While It' s On Your Mind" and "Think About It" have some small, yet broad strokes of variation in the accompaniment that, applied to the other songs on Owen would have made this lovely album a lot more varied. Owen's simplicity ultimately proves to be its greatest weakness, although, at less than 40 minutes long, it's not really a major issue.

It's fair to allow Kinsella the right to make simple music; he's made some rather interesting sounds in the past, and I'm sure experimental for the sake of experimental must surely become tiring after a while. Owen, while flawed, shouldn't be written off; Kinsella is still young and growing, so he shouldn't be written off at all. And yes, this does sound a lot like what American Football's next record would have sounded like, so don't fret about that, either. Not bad; not perfect, but a nice taste of a gentle soul who likes to make good music, and who has the capacity of making even better music in the future.

--Joseph Kyle

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