Not only has Mike Kinsella brought lists of confusion to those who want to play his songs since he rarely ever plays in standard tuning, but does it in such a way that makes you think “damn… this doesn’t sound like it’s that hard”. When it comes to simple sounding music, Mike Kinsella in his “Owen” persona takes the cake. The layers of instruments, the simple use of distortion, and yes… the weird time signatures that pop in and out of the record, make his new album New Leaves his best album to date, and a contender for album of the year.
Mike Kinsella is no guitarist by design. Originally the drummer for influential Chicago indie band Cap’n Jazz, Mike Kinsella found his way to the guitar in his own studio outfit dubbed American Football. A few years pass, and Owen is created. His first album being completely different from his next albums, this newest album is the most “kick back” to his older upbeat sound. New Leaves takes the intricacies of At Home With… and the indie-pop sound of I do perceive. and fuses the two into this new creation.
The Polyvinyl site (Mike’s label) officially states that this album was recorded over the course of two years, with three producers other than Mike to help him with the noise. Unlike At Home With…, New Leaves doesn’t set out with the intent to be that “at home” feeling album. Although, as usual, Kinsella brings the notion of an “at home” feel not for one entire song but rather in and out of songs — never once does this album encounter just a solo attempt with guitar and vocals as his previous albums have showcased in at least one song.
Something that definitely is a kick back to I do perceive and those songs would be the electric guitars. Although they sparsely appear throughout his discography, I do perceive had the bulk of the electric vibe to it. This album, New Leaves, definitely brings that attitude and feel back. Songs like “Never Been Born” and “The Only Child of Aergia” showcase this brilliantly. As for the more At Home With… flavor, “Ugly on the Inside” is the best earthy-acoustic sound produced on this album, with reminiscence of “Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” off of At Home With… Although, some people might be surprised to hear that “Good Friends, Bad Habits” is not the original acoustic demo he posted on his MySpace page a few months ago. On the contrary, it doesn’t sound like it at all… however, if you ever get a chance to see Mike live, you will be surprised usually to hear what the acoustic versions of most of his songs sound like.
The pros for this album: Mike Kinsella is not afraid to go back and revisit those old sounds he once created. Many artists today feel like tampering with older stuff is almost on a level of unoriginality. Mike Kinsella uses his predefined sound as more of a base rather than a complete rip off to start his album. I would definitely say it is most different from other albums he has put out. Another pro is that there isn’t any of those “Owen-esque” bridges or outros that last half of the length of the song (e.g. “Bad News” and most of his first album, self-titled). Some people might not think that’s a pro, but I am a firm believer of a studio vs live sound… and the infinite outro is definitely an on-stage-only execution.
The cons for this album… when will you ever actually hear any of these songs? Much less, with a band? I know he played with a band in promotion of this album ONCE in his hometown of CHICAGO… but unfortunately, the last time I flew out to Chicago for a show with Mike Kinsella was when he put together a Fugazi cover band and right after one song downtown Chicago had a black out. Sweet flight over, bro. Mike Kinsella is a father first, also. Touring for him is seldom and usually to the east coast. Plus, he usually never headlines… so his sets are anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes long. Another con, going along with the live sound theme, is the idea that all these songs not only have band components to them but they are practically integral. With the past albums, and most pronounced with At Home With…, Mike Kinsella used a backing band in the studio only to make the (usually acoustic) guitar and vocals more accentuated. Rather, this newest album has a lot of bass guitar and piano that become the main rhythm or most memorable lead to the songs where they are featured. To be honest, the first time I saw him play “Bad News” I honestly thought to myself “holy shit, he’s playing the rhythm and lead at the same time…” so, with that in mind, it’s possible he surprises us with his guitar madness yet again.
In the race for album of the year, this album is my personal favorite of the year. The five most memorable albums thus far have been: Owen – New Leaves, David Bazan – Curse Your Branches, fun. – Aim and Ignite, Brand New – Daisy, and Ace Enders & a Million Different People – When I Hit the Ground . The next most exciting album for me to hear will be Tegan and Sara’s new album Sainthood along with AFI’s upcoming album Crash Love. It’s always possible that Glassjaw might throw a new album out there… but who’s to say? Far is expected to have an album out for sale before the year end as well, so there is definitely plenty of music to look forward to still… it’ll just be hard to top this album.
This album doesn’t officially come out until September 22nd, but if you were lucky and got the pre-order then it’s been at your doorstep since yesterday at the earliest.
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