Release Date: Jul 2, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Chicago multi-instrumentalist Mike Kinsella has wowed fans for decades with both unique playing in any number of his bands (Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, etc. ) and his usually more evocative, stripped-down songwriting with solo project Owen. Since the early 2000s Kinsella has turned out softy confessional, vaguely emo material under the Owen name, with emphasis on angular ringing guitar lines and an understatedly dry sense of humor in his lyrics.
The word “emo” generally evokes teenagers and those who can’t seem to get past teenagerdom. On his new album as Owen, Mike Kinsella continues to gracefully mature aspects of that largely adolescent genre. Throughout L’Ami du Peuple, he reflects on pain, admits confusion and frustration, but looks for the contrast. As always, Kinsella comes across as well-read, thoughtful, and concerned, reflecting the veteran musician’s early Cap’n Jazz days as much as his new fatherhood.
The latest album by Mike Kinsella (aka Owen) is a step away from the lush orchestral ruminations of 2011's fantastic Ghost Town. While Ghost Town was more of consistent tone, L'Ami du Peuple is more variegated in texture, held together by Kinsella's introspective songwriting. Plenty of tracks are gentle and string-inflected, but "Bad Blood" is rhythmic, percussion- and bass-driven, with a killer (yet brief) guitar solo; "A Fever" is all skittering guitar and electric wallop; "The Burial" is centered on jaunty finger-picked guitar; and "Where Do I Begin?" adds a midsection with almost-bar room piano.
Is anyone an existentialist these days? Are there people who still believe that the individual’s identity/being can be determined solely by their volitions and actions, or do we all now subscribe to the savvy notion that these very same volitions and actions are “always already” the mere expression of the social context and its rules? It’s probable that if you’re reading this particular site, you’d be of the latter persuasion, and if you are, then you’re in good company, because it would seem that Mike Kinsella isn’t much of an existentialist either, at least not as far as L’Ami du Peuple is concerned. His seventh album under the Owen pseudonym, it finds the former member of almost every post-hardcore/math rock band in Chicago expressing a general disdain for what his own self has been denatured into by the norms, ideals, values, and aspirations received from other people, all the while notching his style of indie/folk/post-rock/emo up a level in terms of compositional sophistication and variety. With it, he rails against what he’s been transformed into by the familiars surrounding him and simultaneously complains that without these people he’d be nothing, tying these kinds of ego-negating sentiments to a matured, clinical appreciation of dynamics and ultimately producing what could be his most accomplished album to date.