It’s more than a little bit strange, but Owen is not really called Owen. It is, in fact, the solo project of Mike Kinsella, a name which should be familiar to fans of the Chicago indie scene. For Kinsella has been a member of several groups in Illinois, most notably the fantastic but desperately short-lived American Football, who broke up in 2000 after just three scant years together. For those unfamiliar with AF’s output, it’s hard to obtain their music – just one LP and one EP exist – but it’s well worth your time and attention if you can track it down.
So why would a well-known and -respected Chicago musician choose not to use his own name to boost marketability? Kinsella’s stated that he simply didn’t want to be associated with the deluge of other solo male singer-songwriters out there, so chose, arbitrarily so far as I can tell, the moniker ‘Owen’. It’s stuck: Owen has now been going for a decade.
Owen’s new album Ghost Town will be released on Polyvinyl Records on November 8th, and its imminent arrival offers us a welcome chance to look back on Kinsella’s previous work. This will be his sixth studio album to go along with a handful of EPs, and to date the 2006 album At Home With Owen – its title a reference to Kinsella’s first Owen recordings, which took place in his old bedroom in his mother’s house – remains his finest hour. A tender, diverse and communicative album, bearing exemplars of the hallmarks which have come to define Owen’s music: beautiful acoustic guitar playing; the infrequent, subtle deployment of percussion, piano and bass; Kinsella’s conversational vocal style; his charming, quotidian lyricism; the mixture of songwriting talent and a personable, humble recording style.
From this outstanding album, several songs stand out – specifically the extraordinary ‘Bags of Bones’ – but it’s the excellent ‘One Of These Days’ which has a visual accompaniment.
Joe Wigdahl’s video is muted and simple, a reserved effort with few locations, but it has a definable narrative which matches the lyrics perfectly. We see repeated shots of Kinsella and his girlfriend waking up in the mornings, the half-light seeping in through the windows as she kisses him goodbye and goes to work: he, as a musician, gets to sleep in. Kinsella professes his future plans – “one of these days / I’ll get a real job / One that actually pays” – but in the video we discover this isn’t happening anytime soon. Kinsella cycles to and from his girlfriend’s house every day, to the point where he promises to buy “a new bicycle seat” when he gets some money. Its tender guitar-piano interplay, meshed with Kinsella’s engaging vocals and Wigdahl’s perfectly judged video make for a gorgeous combination.
Roll on November 8th.