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Owen es Mike Kinsella. Por casi una década, Kinsella ha sido conocido por su importante rol en algunas de las más veneradas bandas de Chicago: Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, y American Football. Todos los proyectos con la excepción de American Football fueron bandas en las que Kinsella tocaba con su hermano mayor, Tim Kinsella, un conocido músico de Chicago con sus propios méritos. En los proyectos en los que los hermanos Kinsella estaban juntos, Mike fue relegado a la batería mientras que su hermano se ocupaba de la guitarra. American Football marcó un punto de giro para Mike, ya que pudo permitir que sus habilidades tocando la guitarra finalmente se mostraran. American Football se convirtió pronto en una adorada del indie, respetada en su propio derecho y vista por muchos como el mejor proyecto en el que un Kinsella haya participado. Aunque lanzaron sólo un larga duración, American Football hizo una impresiva marca en los corazones y almas de varios fans del indie y le mostró al mundo indie que Mike Kinsella era tan buen compositor y guitarrista como baterista. No hay ninguna duda de que Owen sigue la senda que dejó American Football en música y letras.

Luego de haber abierto para Rainer Maria en gira, Kinsella regresó a casa de su tiempo en la ruta con material suficiente para un álbum. Con historias de amores perdidos y corazones rotos, y utilizando su propio estudio casero y una guitarra acústica, Kinsella comenzó a grabar canciones y en 2001 lanzó su debut homónimo en Polyvinyl Records. Bien recibido por los críticos y los fans, el jóven Kinsella regresó con su segundo lanzamiento para Polyvinyl en 2002, titulado No Good for No One Now, una colección de siete canciones que combinan la intricada belleza de su homónimo debut con más quejas de corazones rotos y almas quebradas que sólo un Kinsella podía embellecer. Dos EPs continuaron a mitad de 2004, el aptamente titulado The EP y un split con the Rutabega, titulado Near and Far, Vol. 1, antes de que el tercer larga duración de Owen, I Do Perceive, apareciera en Noviembre de ese año. At Home with Owen salió a la superficie dos años más tarde, y fechas con Copeland y the Appleseed Cast fueron armadas en apoyo del mismo. All Music Guide
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Alejándose de la grabaciones caseras que han marcado sus últimos esfuerzos, para su cuarto álbum, Kinsella empleado la ayuda de su primo Nate desde Semaphore Studios y Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Red Red Meat) en el motor de los estudios para crear su obra más musicalmente intrigante registro hasta la fecha. Y mientras las cuerdas, bajos stand-up y fuertes baterías añaden una dinámica exuberante a las canciones de Kinsella, gran parte de At Home With Owen gira cerca de un sonido monótono. Es un placer escuchar sus dedos bailar sin esfuerzo en todo el diapasón y un testimonio de su escritura que no se distraiga del arco general de la canción.

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Along with his brother Tim, Mike Kinsella helped shape the emo landscape since in the early 1990s, first with the posthumously seminal Cap’n Jazz and later in acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls. While his brother garnered most of the press (and often derision) for his obtuse lyrics (as well as fronting another handful of side projects), Mike quietly focused on his own songwriting. Unfortunately, like Cap’n Jazz and Owls, Mike’s bands never lasted long before dissolving. The One Up Downstairs and American Football both fell apart while establishing in the midst of establishing the kind of buzz most acts only dream of. Not surprisingly, his solo project Owen has been his most enduring project to date. Eschewing the verbal acrobatics of this brother, over the course three albums and a handful of smaller releases, Kinsella has directly addressed love, loss, anger, and regret with songs that are painfully direct and carefully crafted.

At Home With Owen expands the minimal guitar and voice aesthetic palette that Kinsella has stuck with until now. Moving away from the home recordings that have marked his past efforts, for his fourth album, Kinsella employed the help of his cousin Nate at Semaphore Studios and Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Red Red Meat) at Engine Studios to create his most sonically intriguing record to date. And while the strings, stand-up bass, and sharp drums add a lush dynamic to Kinsella’s songs, much of At Home With Owen veers close to a monotonous sound. “Bad News” and “A Bird in Hand”, each running well over five minutes, are easily the most accomplished songs of the disc, but there are a run of songs between them that, with Kinsella’s raw voice pushed to the front as usual, and delicate compositions, begin to blur. Luckily, Kinsella saves his best material for the last third of the disc. “Femme Fatale” pulses with a strangely retro vibe, with throbbing keys and a gripping pop hook carrying the tune along. “Windows and Doorways” features some of Kinsella’s finest guitar work—both on acoustic and electric—since the days of American Football. It’s pure pleasure hearing his fingers dance effortlessly around the fretboard and a testament to his writing that it doesn’t distract from the song’s overall arc. The album closes with the wonderfully poignant “One of These Days”, a grey-morninged daydream for the down on their luck.

Lyrically, however, Mike has kept things familiar, wading unflinchingly into his personal life, continuing to document his struggles with courageous honesty. Yet, despite Kinsella’s willingness to leave no stone unturned, one wonders when his lyrical focus will change. Album and after album, Kinsella can’t seem to find a girl and even when he does here (“A Bird in Hand”) he is plagued by an inability to convey his feelings to her. “Bad News” continues a trend of Kinsella songs softly, yet efficiently, cutting down an ex, while with “The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” he practically begs for an unconditional love. In his own press notes, Kinsella is proud of the album for being the most three-dimensional to date, and to a point he is right. At Home With Owen does examine his failed relationships with more detail than in the past, but after six years churning out similarly thematic songs, I wonder if the problem isn’t with the women he meets (“Femme Fatale”) but with Mike himself.

At Home With Owen never makes any illusions about its subject matter, but Kinsella is at the point in his solo career when his lyrical gaze needs to move higher than his navel and embrace a variety of viewpoints. It would be interesting to see more songs written from his girlfriends’, best friends’, or coworkers’ points of view—something that would allow a more multifaceted account of his life. Overall, At Home With Owen is yet another fine entry into Kinsella’s discography. There is enough fine playing, and emotionally potent moments to overlook the troubling narrative. Hopefully, the corpse on the front of the disc points to the death of one phase of Kinsella’s solo career and promises something fresher the next time around.

o en PopMatters

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