Release Date: Jul 29, 2016
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Over the course of 15 years, prolific Chicago indie musician Mike Kinsella has logged several quality albums of contemplative and soft-spoken indie-folk for his solo project Owen, all from the comfort of home. Until now, the moniker has barely demanded Kinsella leave his bedroom to record, and while the albums have gradually become fuller and more detailed in that setting, the 39-year-old must have sensed that it was finally time for a change of scenery.In fact, The King of Whys is the first work in his career to be recorded entirely outside the greater Chicago area. This one took him not too far out to April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the studio and hometown of Justin Vernon, to work with producer S.
Mike Kinsella shares the reins of his Owen project for once, and the results are excellent – Bon Iver collaborator S. Carey’s production is detectable and delectable throughout. It’s emphatically Kinsella’s album, of course; that familiar voice remains front and centre, offering sadboy musings with grace and clarity. At times it’s reminiscent of American Football’s emo twinkle (Lovers Come And Go; Settled Down), while elsewhere there’s a cosy alt country dressing that fits Kinsella’s reflections like a tailored glove.
There has to be a significance to the fact that this is Mike Kinsella’s first record of original material since the American Football reunion. That his first band ever got back together at all seems like a total aberration; they were initially a flash in the pan during Kinsella’s university days in Champaign, Illinois, playing most of their shows on college campuses and at house parties. Their one full-length nearly didn’t get made, with only a last-ditch offer from a friend at the then-fledgling Polyvinyl convincing Kinsella, guitarist Steve Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos to lay down nine tracks just before they graduated and closed the book on that chapter of their lives; Kinsella had to come up with a large chunk of the lyrics at the eleventh hour, having only ever played some of the songs as instrumentals.
All songs bleed a sense of place, though with some the wound is deeper and fresher than with others. The exact location of that place tends to vary based on the eye (or ear) of the beholder, but it’s hard to imagine Mike Kinsella’s songs bleeding anything other than Chicago, the city he’s called home for most of his adult life. Playing under the moniker of Owen on his 2011 album Ghost Town, Kinsella mused, “There’s no place like home for collecting burdens/ And conjuring ghosts that don’t know they’re dead.” The Chicago of Kinsella’s imagination is a city of ghosts as much as it is one of living, breathing people.
To nearly the same degree that Mike Kinsella once influenced the aesthetic of modern emo, his solo project Owen deconstructs it. His projects American Football and Owls channeled effusive lyricism and intricate instrumental interplay in short, brilliant bursts of creativity; by contrast, Owen albums usually find Kinsella alone with his acoustic guitar, making plainspoken assessments of the accruing obligations and disappointments of adulthood. The King of Whys is Kinsella’s first collection of new material since the wildly successful American Football reunion in 2014, which put him in front of audiences that dwarfed any he saw during that band’s initial late-‘90s run.
For everything Mike Kinsella's done with American Football, I'll be grateful until the end of time. Here's hoping all their Facebook teasing means a new record. But as the stain of "Never Meant" remains unfaded on an emo addict such as myself, Kinsella thoroughly found ways of telling his stories. Owen, his solo project, is the main outlet but he's been just as ambitious on Owls as well as Their / Theyâ€™re / There with Into It.
Over the last 20 years Mike Kinsella has almost cultivated his own music scene. Most notably as part of Cap’n Jazz, American Football and Joan of Arc, Kinsella has proved to be a consistent performer and songwriter, whatever role he takes on. However, it’s Owen where he has focused on most recently, with the solo project allowing him the freedom that isn’t possible when in bands.
The King of Whys is Mike Kinsella's ninth LP as Owen, and his first to be recorded wholly outside of metropolitan Chicago. Instead, it was assembled at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, home of indie folk band Bon Iver, whose drummer, S. Carey, produced the record. The release also showcases a fuller band sound provided by several guests, including Carey, who plays multiple instruments here.
Owen has been the long-term solo alias of multi-instrumentalist and 'emo' pioneer Mike Kinsella (American Football, Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Joan of Arc) but is perhaps his most underrated project. The Kinsella name has been synonymous with Chicago's indie-rock scene ever since Mike and his brother Tim started the explosive, scatty wunderkinds Cap'n Jazz back when they were teenagers in the early Nineties. In general, it is Tim's projects which receive the most attention due to his erratic writing style and yelped, indistinguishable voice, more akin to those original glory days, in his acts Owls and Joan of Arc.
Mike Kinsella has been releasing music as Owen for fifteen years now, ‘The King of Whys’ is his eighth album in the guise. As such, it’s a collection of songs that see Kinsella as confident as possible in his skin. Reuniting American Football in 2014, Kinsella took a step back into his formative, emotional teenage years, and ‘The King of Whys’ appears to be a reaction against this.
Draw a line down the middle of Owen’s discography and you’ll find two distinctly different Mike Kinsellas. Having started the project in 2001 following the breakup of American Football, Kinsella took to recording albums all by himself, sometimes in his old bedroom at his mom’s house. Between 2001 and 2006, Kinsella released four records under the Owen moniker, each one an ode to his drunken evenings, aching heart, and quiet moments before work.