Since the age of twelve, Mike Kinsella has loaned his creative efforts to up to seven bands spanning nearly forty albums of work. Together with his brother Tim, the Kinsella brothers are responsible for playing in some of the most prominent American emo acts of the 90s including Joan of Arc, Cap'n'Jazz, Owls and American Football. The development of their sound through these different projects has helped forge distinctive styles that continue to thrive in their respective scenes today.
Under Owen, Mike Kinsella continues to make use of experimental techniques that have become synonymous with his projects. His gentle use of intricate melodies and experimentation echo his previous projects but in a much more acoustic setting, representing a transposition of the styles developed over these projects to a quieter, more accessible platform.
On his latest album, 'Other People's Songs', Kinsella borrows from some of his favourite bands like The Promise Ring, Depeche Mode and punk band Against Me! This selection could come as a surprise to some of those familiar with Owen's sleepy aesthetic, but it's their personalities that are fitting to Kinsella's vocal and musical styles.
Opening track 'Descender' offers a gentle alternative to Lungfish's fuzzy original - chiming percussion glints across elegant strings accentuated by Kinsella's relaxed finger-picking. 'Girl in a Box' is a much more playful number. The song is driven by a solid drumline and lead guitar that grins with American folk vibes. Kinsella sings, "I'll cut off her head if I want to, yeah I want to". The original by Blake Babies is believed to be about the kidnapping and murder of Colleen Stan in the late 70s.
Owen's gentle and subdued approach to these songs is indicative of their sad, often dark nature brought out through his wistful, folky manner. Kinsella is noticeably less twee on these songs than on some of his older work, even though their format is closer now to pop than it has been in the past. Owen's own music can typically be restricted by his strong focus on a heavily acoustic-style approach to song-writing.
The most memorable moments on here include closer 'Under the Blanket', ending the album with a soft ballad, electric guitars and piano which busy the moments after Kinsella sings "We can share a blanket, but I don't want to". Similarly, 'Forget Me' (originally performed by Kinsella's former bandmate Davey von Bohlen's band The Promise Ring) is driven by sunny lead guitar and upbeat drums. Kinsella laments, "I married a room, I married a room" over melodic bass and some undeservedly awkward country-style violin.
This collection of tracks does represent a fresh and interesting way of interpreting these songs, however in Kinsella's rendering of these songs - which are often taken from punk and post-hardcore circles - he, for some reason, seems to rework them closer to folk and country styles. It would perhaps have been more interesting to see Owen cover these songs in a style closer to his own, or even closer to that of their own respective bands. In this format, the sentiments in these songs are brought out in a more obvious way, which can actually leave the songs feeling somewhat immature. Not only this, but it robs Owen of the opportunities he seizes in his own songs to float off into more spontaneous instrumental sections.
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