Two years ago I was in a band in Virginia. We had a show one night at this theatre we had wanted to play for a long time because of the acoustics and general malaise that permeated the atmosphere of the room. Some candles would have been nice. At any rate, we were happy to secure a night to play with some of our friends from Richmond, however, all bands were distraught about a week later when the Flaming Lips decided to play a very small venue in Norfolk. Naturally, anybody who was anybody that night was going to be at the Lips show. And even though everyone involved with the little concert at the theatre felt like they could qualify as "anybody who was anybody" had to suffer the depression accompanying playing to an empty – despite great acoustics – theatre.
Years later, Owen (actually named Mike Kinsella) has a new EP. Titled dada-istically as "The EP," it is damned good. The connection between the night of the depressing concert at the theatre and the EP however, is that whenever I talk about Mike Kinsella (yes, he's the brother of Tim from Joan of Arc) that night has to come up because it was when I first heard the band American Football
American Football was this great little group Mike Kinsella fronted in 1998 that only put out a single and one full-length and then nothing else. They would layer these beautifully complex telecaster melodies over one another with minimal-yet-noticeable drums in the background. And there were long breathy trumpets and tambourines and all the sorts of the wonderful little instruments that find their way into the tiny pores of indie rock. American Football didn't last very long, but their album is still so sought after that their label, Champaign, IL's Polyvinyl Records., has re-released it on colored vinyl. (I have the green…it goes better with the album art.)
So my obsession with Mike Kinsella began when I first heard what he had done with this great little American Football thing. His lyrics were the most poignant part of the music (despite my great attachment to the things his band would do with the Fender Telecaster, at the time my guitar of choice). I was really into Death Cab.and Bright Eyes at the time, so the melodic guitar of AF combined with Kinsella's simple lyrics on the subjects of distance and angst and depression was sort of just what I wanted in a band.
Kinsella's lyrics are angsty, but aren't as clever as Gibbard or Oberst. Instead they're just kind of inyourface plain. The album begins, "Let's just forget everything said/ Everything we did…Goodbye to all those nights when we realized we were falling out of love/ It was hopeless, never meant." No clever rhymes or plays on words, no little tricks that make it seem like there has been some soul-searching involved in this articulation of sadness. (i.e. no registrations in glove compartments or fevers and mirrors in the basement).
After a quick run to a thrift store the afternoon of the concert at the theatre, our lead singer popped the disc in and said it was something her roommate turned her onto. When Thanksgiving rolled around and I found myself at the Sonic Boom.on Capitol Hill, I finally found the disc. (I'd had enough of looking for it and finding only American Hi-Fi and American Analog Set.)
It was only a couple hours into the obsession that I found out what Kinsella did after the deflation of the Football. He started recording acoustic stuff under the enigmatic moniker, Owen. Naturally I shat myself over not knowing this before, and ran to my car in the driveway and sped all the way back to Sonic Boom to get whatever they had by Owen. Sadly, there was nothing but one of those plastic dividers, mockingly showing me where the records had been before I got there.
So the present day is upon us, Owen had two full-length releases and then nothing for about a year and a half, but it's best just to deal with it. Kucinich won't be in the white house, and neither will Dean, but hey, maybe Nader will get to debate or something. The good news is that Owen has five new songs, finally.
The EP begins with a track called "Skin and Bones." It's pretty much exactly what every whiny mopped-topped indie boy wants to do when he blows two hundred bucks of lawn-mowing money on a cassette recorder and sets to work in his bedroom with an acoustic guitar and journal full of iambic pentameter about the girl across the street with the alcoholic dad. Layers of acoustic guitar follow one basic melodic theme and then Kinsella's off to the races with a song about the human race. "Skin and bones and blood and teeth. This is essentially who we are. Hair and clothes and the company we keep. This is essentially who we are to others."
"In the Morning Before Work" has come to be my favorite track on the EP for two reasons. First, because the simplicity of just an acoustic guitar reminds me of the song "Good Deeds" off Owen's second full-length, "No Good for No One," which I still recommend to people as one of my favorite songs. If someone has "Good Deeds" when I rummage through their Ipod, I'll explode with happiness and make them let me listen to it. My second reason is because of lyrics like this: "I sleep in these dirty sheets, blanket between my boney knees/ But you already knew that because you used to crawl in bed with me/ In the morning, before work." The song is basically a perfect articulation of having a missing piece, someone who knows how you sleep, what CDs you listen to, how you like your coffee, everything about you…and right now I'm sitting at a kitchen table in Washington in the middle of the night thinking about how my girlfriend lives in Manhattan and I have another year of college left in Virginia. Dammit.
The longest and most breaks-the-mold song, is "That Mouth," an electronic mess that is somehow exciting to listen to, even though it's about getting screwed over by a girl and Kinsella repeats "At least I can see myself in the mirror" about four times too many towards the end of the song.
All in all, the album is a great listen. It's without a doubt the best Owen release to date, and should fit in nicely to the soundtrack of your day when the new Modest Mouse is too loud, your Aveo disc is too scratched, and Death Cab is unappealing because your twelve-year-old niece just asked you if you'd ever heard of the Postal Service.