Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Owen is Mike Kinsella, one of the more influential figures - along with his brother Tim - in the development of what (I do perceive to be) the Chicago indie scene in the late 90s. [See, that was clever because Owen has an album called I Do Perceive, and...yeah.]

The Kinsella family lore dates back to Cap'n Jazz, an influential experimental emo band that garnered a cult following in the Midwest and beyond. At their formation in 1989, Tim was 15, and Mike was 12. Not only would this set the bar for their future talents ludicrously high, it would heavily shape the empirical progression of their music.

Following the breakup of Cap'n Jazz in 1995, Tim formed the (often intentionally cryptic) indie piece Joan of Arc and again asked his brother to play drums. The group is still active, releasing the album Flowers earlier this summer (in June) which was their 12th (12th!) full-length studio album.

However, in 1997 Mike decided to stretch his singer/songwriter skills and departed to form American Football, arguably the most influential instrumental-based emo band of the decade. (And I mean emo as it was a sound then, not your Fall Out Boys and Panic At The Discos, and whatever whippersnappers are on my lawn these days.)

For its varying time signatures and confessional-spoken lyricism combined into what are now considered traditional indie measures - elements Kinsella would later incorporate into the foundation of Owen - their self-titled release became a seminal moment for what it meant for a label to define its act as "emo," in that the genre's sound and sensbility were finally merged by Kinsella's project. Maybe this is overstating it quite a bit, but many bands thereafter sought to match or replicate this style, and when their attempts were seen as hackneyed, the fracturing of the loose-ended organization of all things "emo" began to take hold.

At the turn of the century - nay, millennium - Tim asked Mike to bust out the kit once more for the short-lived Owls. But by 2001, Mike was already well-established as his own entity, what with his plain-styled and well-defined sense of sound. Naturally, his departure led to the solo-project under the moniker of Owen.

Confused? Just know that Mike simply knows how to write one hell of a melody, and it shines in Owen. Need more? He plays all the instruments, records out of his mom's basement, and the soft-yet-complex acoustics with sweeping-but-not-overpowering piano and cello movements match that type of delicate, wholesome, heart-on-sleeve sensibility.

On September 22nd, his latest album New Leaves is released, which is available for preorder now at Polyvinyl (via the link). I'm going to go ahead and guarantee this will make a perfect autumn album, and not because of the title. Well, partially. And for those fortunate enough to be living in Chicago, on September 18th, Mike will be playing with a full band at The Beat Kitchen as part of a pre-record release party.

Consider me jealous. For now, I've been anxiously relying on his MySpace for leaf samples, as it were, along with reliving some of my favorite tracks for his previous effort, At Home With Owen - one of my favorite albums of...2006? Really? I can't believe it's already been that long. This is a favorite track of mine off of said album, "The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi." (Album is chocked full of literary references. Enjoy it.)

The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi [mp3] - iTunes

Fall 2009 Tour:
9/16 Urbana, IL
9/18 Chicago, IL (Beat Kitchen)
9/19 St. Louis, MO
10/8 Philadelphia, PA
10/9 New York, NY (Mercury Lounge)
10/10 Brooklyn, NY (Union Hall)
10/11 Allston, MA
10/16 Oswego, NY
10/24 Halifax, Nova Scotia

1 comment:

Diana S. said...

Matt -
I thought of listening to Owen with you in the car on the way to Boston (Dino State Park represent) back in '08, until I remembered you also contribute to this here blog and that you wrote this entry (palm, meet forehead)... I also think you should do a few installments of education on what emo really is. Was. whatever.