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OWEN is Back & Better than ever!!!

Owen


Ghost Town
Polyvinyl Records, 2011
www.polyvinylrecords.com

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

The new CD by Chicago’s Owen, Ghost Town will prove to people that Mike Kinsella is not just a small-time nobody, but a great talent that deserves a bigger audience. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist, an especially gifted guitar player and drummer, witty, satirical and has a great sense of humor. He deserves your attention!

But it doesn’t just end there. He is a busy man; even more so these days as he is a relatively new father. But he’s also been involved in various other Chicago-based bands. Among them are: Joan of Arc, the band for whom his brother, Tim, is the front-man and really, the only member that’s been extant for all JOA’s albums: they’ve changed a lot since their first album, A Portable Model of, back in 1995. Some members have come and gone, some never to return, but, always there is Tim, who, like his brother Mike, is a prolific and brilliant songwriter and a gifted musician. Anyway, Mike has appeared on some Joan of Arc discs, often just playing guitar and drums on an average of two or three songs. He’s also been involved in bands such as American Football, Cex and was part of the band which was the forerunner to Joan of Arc: Cap’n Jazz, a truly, truly underrated band, which only put out one or two albums before morphing into JOA. But to hard-core cult fans of that little circle of Chicago indie bands, Cap’n Jazz is something of a legend.

Ghost Town, Owen’s new CD, is, I think, a bit better than his previous release, New Leaves, which came out in 2009. It seems like these last couple of releases have found Mike in a mellower, less callous and wry mood, but there’s something about Ghost Town that reminds me of his older albums, for instance, his eponymous debut CD as well as No Good For No One Now. They have those sardonic, wry and witty lyrics sung over mellow, acoustic-based beautiful music. On New Leaves, the previous release by Owen, I found to be also a great album but somehow, even with the great lyrics and wit, it seemed a little flat. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it was 100 times better than most stuff that came out in 2009 or better than most stuff that’s come out in the last decade, for that matter, but it just seemed that Mike wasn’t stretching his talents as far as he could’ve.

For instance, 2004’s I Do Perceive and its 2006 follow-up, At Home With Owen were unforgettable collections of bliss, especially the former, I Do Perceive, which is still my favorite Owen album. It’s like those two albums were talking to a (fictional) amanuensis, an antagonist to his laconic protagonist. Whereas on his first two CDs (Owen and No Good For No One Now) he seems to be singing about more personal issues, things that weren’t outwardly directed, but more introspective and self-absorbing.

After I Do Perceive, I was a dedicated Owen fan; I listened to that CD over and over again, all through 2005. It was like an addiction. I tried to find other new stuff to get into and soothe myself with older classics like Bowie or The Velvet Underground or Brian Eno, etc, but I always ended up going back to that same album. Then, when I found out that he was finally coming out with a new CD (which turned out to be 2006’s At Home With Owen) I was both excited and had mixed emotions because I just didn’t think that such a great album (I Do Perceive) could be improved upon. But when At Home… finally was released I was very anxious to listen to it and from the first cut, “Bad News” I knew that Owen had indeed made a worthy follow-up.

Well, that was 2006, the year that At Home With Owen was released. It turned out that it would be another three years before his next album, New Leaves surfaced. In the meantime Mike kept himself busy, he played on a few songs on his brother’s band’s CDs – Boo! Human, Flowers and he submitted a song that appeared on a Joan of Arc (hence, Tim Kinsella) collection: it was called Joan of Arc Presents: Don’t Mind Control and it was a compilation of songs by 17 different bands/artists who have played in Joan of Arc over the past 15 or so years, including a solo tune by Tim Kinsella, something by Ghosts & Vodka, a really catchy tune by a band called Euphone, called “Friend In Common”, plus bands like Disappears, Litesalive, Slick Conditions and singers such as Cale Parks and the aforementioned Owen song, “No More Nowhere”, as well as Jeremy Boyle and Sam Zurick.

Then came New Leaves, in 2009. Like I said, I liked it as a Owen album, qua Owen, but, as I said, it could’ve been broader and more varied, but it was an Owen CD and I was just happy that he put out another CD. But to be honest, I wasn’t listening to New Leaves over and over again, the way I listened to I Do Perceive, four years earlier.

So now it’s October of 2011 and Ghost Town is just about ready to hit the shelves and “cyber-shelves”, to coin an idiom and I must tell you, I have been rejuvenated by its hipness, its sardonic lyrics, the catchy acoustic and electric guitar mix and its all-around laconic wry wit. From the opening cut, “Too Many Moons” to his paean to his new daughter, “O’ Evelyn” to the mesmerizing “I Believe”, “The Armoire” all the way to the closing tune, “Everyone’s Asleep in the House But Me”, it is a real awakening, a refreshing new album and, being a big fan myself, it feels like I have a brand new album that is just for me. That being said, I would still like to turn Owen on to the hip, indie-minded people of San Diego in particular and the West Coast in general, because, for some reason his brother’s great band, Joan of Arc, as well as Owen too, just don’t seem to have much of a presence out here. I confess to not knowing how popular they are or if they have a cult following in their hometown of Chicago or points Eastward. But what really disappointed me was when I went to see Joan of Arc at the Casbah, here in San Diego and only about 60 or so people showed up – I mean, the Casbah’s kind of a small club in the first place, I saw and wrote a review of a show that The Legendary Pink Dots did there in July of 2007 and at that show there were a few more people there. So basically, think of this as not just a positive review for Owen’s new CD, Ghost Town, think of it as a clarion call to all you West Coast hipsters to pick up a copy of this new CD and when you realize how great it is, hopefully you’ll go to www.polyvinylrecords.com and order some of his earlier works – I’d personally recommend No Good for No One Now, I Do Perceive and At Home With Owen.

Anyway, I hope you will listen and learn and then start sending Owen (Mike Kinsella) messages – he’s on Facebook and MySpace – en masse, so that he will respond and eventually come out here to play some gigs – especially in San Diego and Los Angeles (I’m sure that he’d be loved in San Francisco as well), but since I am stuck in San Diego for now, I really hope he comes out here and plays a gig at one of the several decent clubs, because I will definitely be there, up front, taking pictures and writing about it!

-KM

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