Owen – Ghost Town


Artist

Album

Ghost Town

Label

Polyvinyl/Hobbledehoy Records

Year

2011

For Fans Of

Iron & Wine - Bon Iver

Summary

Yet another harrowingly beautiful self-portrait from Mike Kinsella.

Rating

85 / 100

Mike Kinsella has had a long and fruitful career in the music industry, with a resume boasting the likes of influential emo bands like Cap’n Jazz and American Football as well as dozens of individual recording projects. As a solo artist, Kinsella has been composing, recording and releasing music under his Owen moniker for ten years now, gradually building upon the traditional formula of the singer-songwriter and segueing into dense soundscapes of varying instrumentation and stylistic influences. On his newest LP Ghost Town’, Kinsella returns to a more organic songwriting aesthetic compared to his previous full-length release New Leaves’, layering his compositions around an unwavering template of softly-plucked, angelic acoustic guitar melodies and an almost threadbare single-track vocal style. Through his contained delivery, Kinsella unearths a highly-affecting lyrical poignancy and an engrossing sense of narrative, firmly anchored by his exceptional musical prowess.

Kinsella introduces himself on opening track Too Many Moons’ with a brief utterance in French that does little to hide the American whitewash of his vocal croon, simply because it doesn’t need to. The album is a raw and honest portrait of Kinsella as he exists, bearing his fears and desires before the listener and traversing a path snowed deep with nostalgia and introspection. The emotionality and immediacy of an Owen LP comes not from his delivery, but from the message it contains. He sings with a steady and near-constant style, with a gruff, deep timbre that never exudes a strained or forced tone. Many singer-songwriters use composition as a means of flaunting their vocal proficiency, but Kinsella’s softly-sung melodies never utilise a wider range than necessary. Such gratuitous displays would distract from his message. On ‘Ghost Town‘, he is simply a man sitting down to discuss his trials and trepidations with the listener, talking calmly where others would feel the need to shout.

The storytelling on Ghost Town’ is largely introspective and deeply personal, reading mostly as a series of aggrieved diary entries and endearing letters to those Kinsella loves. Many of the songs on the album address his disparate feelings of love, attachment and disaffection towards the family he was born and raised in, as well as his current familial relationship with his partner and newborn child. Opener ‘Too Many Moons’ lays the groundwork for these lyrical themes, exploring his somewhat strained relationship he has with his wife and his occasional need for isolation: “In mirrored eyes I see kerosene and you’ve got the matches, just don’t ask me to stay.” The album is peppered with artfully-executed metaphors and vivid imagery that lends the songs considerable lyrical depth, demonstrated in the musings of Kinsella as he questions the roles of alcohol and his wife as personal saviours in his in I Believe’: “I just found Jesus, swimming at the bottom of the bottle I keep crawling out of.” Several of the tracks are addressed specifically to his baby daughter, such as the tender and beautiful Mother’s Milk Breath’ in which he speaks words of reassurance about the road ahead of her: “When the moon catches fire, we’ll start a new day of school.”

The album’s musicality is instrumentally and stylistically diverse, propelling Kinsella far ahead of the clichés that plague the compositions of many singer-songwriters. At their most pared-down, his compositions begin with a soft, almost faintly-plucked acoustic, spilling forth complex melodies laced with a succinct poignancy that harkens back to Kinsella’s tenure with American Football. Tracks like ‘The Armoire are fleshed out with sparse, scattered hi-hats strikes and rim shots set against swirling orchestral violin notes that beautifully harmonise with one-another, quickly becoming a recurring element of the album. Diversity comes in the form of largely unexpected musical highlights, such as the deep, resonating xylophone melody of ‘No Place Like Home’ or the rhythmic, tribal drumbeat of ‘An Animal‘. At times, the album moves away from its heavy-handed influence from acoustic folk into a slow-paced, nonchalant take on indie rock, anchoring songs like Everyone’s Asleep In The House But Me’ with minimal, driving drumbeats and punctuating riffs and phrases played on a warm, buzzing and jangly electric guitar. Middle track ‘I Believe marks the album’s largest stylistic differentiation, concluding with a fast-paced tempo, chugging, overdriven electric chords and a layered, sing-along vocal finale.

Conclusion

Ten years into his solo career under the Owen moniker, Mike Kinsella has released ‘Ghost Town’, an LP which marks a return to a more organic sound built around threadbare, single-track vocals and soft, shimmering melodies plucked from the strings of his acoustic guitar. As always, his words are deeply poetic and intensely personal, bearing his soul before the listener with songwriting that is as endearing as it is aggrieved.

Tracklisting

1. Too Many Moons
2. No Place Like Home
3. O, Evelyn…
4. I Believe 
5. The Armoire
6. An Animal
7. No Language
8. Mother’s Milk Breath
9. Everyone’s Asleep in the House but Me
10. I’m Always in Love (Bonus Track)

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