It’s no surprise Owen is one of the most anticipated releases for us here at 402. I literally had to pull out the “I’m the boss” card to get to review this. I mean… who wouldn’t? Mike Kinsella, the brains and brawn behind Owen, has been steadily putting out some of the best releases of the decade. It’s hard to say what really makes up the magic that exists from the start of an album to the end of it… it’s sort of like what makes up a movie you can watch over and over again. You know what’s coming, but because it’s done so well it’s too good to not watch. Or in this case, listen to.
Ghost Town, Owen’s sixth release in a decade, is yet another spell cast from what only could be wizardry. And how, as this is rumored to be the last Owen release…
Listen to a few tracks below!
Something you’ll notice extremely early on is the larger band feel of this album. There seems to be much more instrumentation laced throughout the entire album than previous albums. Kinsella, a guitar vishnu and multi-instrumental paragon, normally fronts his singing and acoustic guitar as the stars of most arrangements, with minimal accompanying instrumentation surrounding a thick core. This album seems to go all out on a complete sound, with many songs including very strong drum and bass presence. Unlike other albums, it’s hard to imagine many of these songs translating to anything similar live. The drumming and layering of lead guitar seems very intricate, maybe more intricate than Kinsella can get away with live.
Ghost Town is undoubtedly the most rock sounding album of the entire discography. Compared to I do perceive. (arguably Owen’s most rock album), this album would be a notch down on the catchy riffs and plenty of notches up on the rock sound. Don’t come expecting I do perceive. part II here — Ghost Town really is it’s own beast.
Some new things that aren’t necessarily completely new to the Owen repertoire is the use of the stringed instruments other than guitar. There seems to be a much stronger presence of cello and violin on this than previous albums. The lends yet another layer of complexity to the entire album. And maybe most importantly, the amount of production that went into this album didn’t overshadow the core essence of what Owen is all about. Like always, the subtle weaving of all instrumentation and vocals are both exciting and haunting.
Unlike previous efforts, it was hard to pinpoint that hooky song Owen albums usually include. Everything seemed to go by so fast that there wasn’t really one extremely catchy vocal melody or guitar riff or chorus that sucked me in the first time. After three listens, “I Believe” and “No Language” have ended up being my two favorites. This shouldn’t be a complete surprise, as both tracks feature some of the most complex and beautiful arrangements on the album.
I’m also never a complete fan of including tracks from an EP unless they are drastically different. “O, Evelyn…” is the title track from the EP with the same name, released during Record Store Day this past year. As much as I loved the teaser-EP, I would have been more in love with Ghost Town had it featured something other than “O, Evelyn…” or at the very least, a different arrangement of the song.
My last con, which is a very personal one, is the fact that I’ll probably never see Owen play in San Francisco again. I went through high school and all of college, basing much of my musical inspiration around Mike Kinsella projects. Having the ability to see him live three times was nice, but nowhere near enough. To this day, I’ve never flown further for a show (or flown for any show) than when Owen played with Andy Hull and Kevin Devine during CMJ a few years ago. So, hearing that this may be Mike Kinsella’s last hurrah actually makes me feel kind of ugly inside. Maybe that really is the whole idea behind Ghost Town, though. This feeling I get is truly, in all sense of the stupid word, emo.
Owen’s latest album would normally be good enough to jump into the album of the year nominee boat, but this time around is a bit different. The album actually plays really fast. I find myself having to keep repeating this album before it goes into the next album I have to review, and it’s more because I feel like I’ve barely breathed by the time it’s over. With the inclusion of “O, Evelyn…” and the lack of a snapper-hand-clapper, I feel like this album might be more of a slow growing force than a bullet train of awe. I’ve had two days with the album so far and it definitely will be a mainstay on my playlist for a very long time. It just didn’t feel that way initially. Come November and we’ll see if Owen’s Ghost Town can stand with the rest of them.
As for more on the album, Ghost Town has seemed to benefit from the production team of Brian Deck (Iron & Wine) and Neil Strauch (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy). The full sound gives Owen that band vibe it once hinted at with I do perceive. Those who are looking for an American Football revival might be mistaken — Ghost Town is far from American Football and that style of rock. It’s hard to exactly tell where this one will rank amongst the other Owen LPs, but for right now it’s definitely #1.