During late November of 2002, I was a sad and bitter person. These feelings were brought about by several factors; the most obvious being that, as freshman in college whose main mode of transportation was walking, I was fucking cold most of the time. This sensation generally brings out the irritability in most. Delving deeper into my psyche it could be understood that my melancholic demeanor was caused by something far more consequential to the life of an eighteen year old; I didn't have a girlfriend. This meant I was unable to discuss my emotions without fear of ridicule, or reciprocate any feelings of love toward another human being; two events that could help me achieve self-actualization. Plus, I wasn't getting laid, which we all know can make anyone a mean spirited son of a bitch. Being wholly obsessed with metalcore at the time (a period of my life that I don't regret, but am hesitant to bring up in conversation) there weren't a slew of records that could not only address the inner turmoil I was feeling, but appeal to the delicate state I was in. That was until I went home for Thanksgiving break.
Like most human beings I am fairly incapable of holding conversation with out straying the dialogue towards subjects I deem myself an expert on; this meaning music. (Yes, I know the aforementioned metalcore comment would suggest otherwise) A day or two after Thanksgiving a friend from high school was at my house sharing his first college experiences with me. Displaying my social inabilities I asked him frankly, "So what have you been listening to lately?" He happened to have No Good for No One Now on him at the time. I was pretty passive about it upon first listen (where were the breakdowns?) but made a copy of it, promising I would give it a second chance. Now halfway into December, the temperature became frigid, as did I; at the time I was head over heels for a girl, and while her feelings were generally the same, she was still attached to her boyfriend of who cares how many years. Remembering the promise I made to my friend, I put away my Most Precious Blood album to give Owen a chance. Being even colder and lonelier than I was prior to the holiday, the album became a perfect snap shot of where I was in my life. I was blown away to find someone who could make music so lush and beautiful yet so full of ill will. To me, Mike Kinsella was like a contemporary Morrissey who couldn't quite get his middle finger to stay down.
Flash forward four years, sure I'm still bitter and lonely at times (who isn't), but I understand that there's no use in reveling in the past or hanging on to negative feeling; a realization that Kinsella has apparently made as well. While the lyrics are still somber and doubtful at times, gone is a lot of spite present in his previous work. Notice I write "a lot" as opposed to "all"; At Home with Owen opens with a track titled "Bad News," in which Kinsella writes an open letter about someone who cannot get enough of themselves. While I have never considered Kinsella's lyrics to be poetic, I'll admit he is quite good at writing some snappy and, at times, insightful one liners. This album is no exception, with my favorite coming from "Bad News" where Kinsella tells the song's subject, "You're a has been that never was." There must have been frost on his lips when he recorded this song because that is some cold shit.
His malevolence is short lived however; all malice in the album fades out with the first track. From then on the lyrical work returns to the worrisome form found in almost all of the Owen releases. Now married, Kinsella shifts his fretting about girls to fretting about one woman, his wife. In "The Sad Waltz of Pietro Crespi," he worries if his wife will love him while still being able to tolerate him for the rest of their lives. Kinsella's narrative style of writing lyrics has improved some on this release as well, in the song "Bag of Bones," he tells an interesting story about "bonding over broken bones," as well as a track about getting a real job one day.
To my dismay, this new album has no songs with a rhythm as upbeat as "I'm not Going Anywhere Tonight" which came off his second album, No Good for No One Now. Instead Kinsella makes the songs a lot more atmospheric, creating lush and full-bodied songs close in mood to those on his self-titled work, except this time with more instrumentation than simple programming. While these are impressive songs, they lack that reflective, "I'm too miserable to do anything" tone that really made Owen something special. While I don't wish him the anguish it took to write those songs, his maturity might have made him too comfortable, thus taking a lot of the emotion out of his work.
While every song on this new album is more filled out than much of his previous work, with piano and string arrangements often accompanying the guitar and drums, the guitar arrangement seems to have evolved little from his last album, I Do Perceive. While this proves to be acceptable on the recording, with many of the songs being moved by other instrumentation, they don't work as well live when it's just Kinsella and his guitar. This isn't to say they guitar work is bad in any sense, but in a live setting, this could get boring quickly.
If At Home with Owen is your first Introduction to the music of Mike Kinsella, then there's no doubt you'll be hooked on the wistful tunes he writes, however if you've been a fan for some time you might find yourself thinking yes, these songs are an improvement, but you can't shake the feeling that you've heard them all before.
7.0 / 10
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