The songs Mike Kinsella writes as Owen have always had rock solid lyrical foundations. And on new album, L'Ami du Peuple, the same can be said for the music. Emphasis on the rock.
Anyone vaguely familiar with Kinsella's musical lineage (Cap'n Jazz, American Football, Owls) knows he's far from a one-note musician.
And now, he expands his repertoire as a solo songwriter to include a touch of female vocals, pounding drums, and even dueling electric guitar lines that are the closest thing he’s done in tribute to his 80s hair metal obsession.
The variety of sounds featured on L'Ami du Peuple can largely be attributed to a new approach Kinsella took to the writing and recording process.
Rather than locking himself in a room with mostly finished song ideas for a couple of weeks before emerging with a finished album, this time Kinsella involved producer Neil Strauch (Iron & Wine, Bonnie 'Prince’ Billy, Andrew Bird) from the very beginning and spaced out recording over a few month period.
This enabled him to naturally bring a different mood or vibe to the material he was working on every time he entered the studio -- re-evaluating what had been recorded during the previous session and collaborating with Strauch on the direction new songs should take.
As a result, L'Ami du Peuple sounds markedly different than any album Kinsella has released under the Owen moniker.
From the electronic blips and hand claps that punctuate "I Got High," to the ragtime piano melody running through "Where Do I Begin?" each track possesses a unique and surprising identity.
"In the past I've stifled a bunch of my influences and leaned on a couple consistently, but this time I just let each song happen as I heard them and had a lot of fun trying some new things," Kinsella reveals.
The benefits of this "anything goes" mindset are plainly apparent on album centerpiece "Bad Blood" -- a track propelled by a quasi-country stomp that explodes halfway through with an electric guitar solo before dovetailing into a closing crescendo.
"Bad Blood" also affirms that lyrically Kinsella remains as raw and personal as ever. As the title suggests, the song finds Kinsella lamenting his pedigree: "Bad blood / Hereditary law you can't run away from / (Trust me, I've tried)."
This focus on familial relationships occurs often, but with the addition of a new angle on top of those Kinsella has adopted previously. Now the parent of two children, Kinsella finds his perspective on life inevitably shifting from being a "son" to being a "father."
This role reversal adds a new dimension to Kinsella's self-examination of his thoughts and fears. As he explains, "Instead of being a son whose father passed away, I've moved on to being the father afraid of passing."
His anxiety at life passing by too quickly is evident on closing track "Vivid Dreams": "How long have I been sleeping? / I'm a dad and my dad's dead."
The question he poses doesn't come with an easy answer, but for an artist like Kinsella who is constantly evolving and reinventing himself, death is just an opportunity for rebirth.
Under The Radar
L'Ami du Peuple allows Kinsella to spread out and open himself up to different styles. And it's interesting to see his songs adapt to their new surroundings.
A sense of excited satisfaction runs through L'Ami du Peuple, finding a still curious and motivated Kinsella a little bit older, but learning new things all the time and coming up with some of his best songs yet.
It's a second improvement in a row-let's hope it's just the beginning of a fresh arc.
Consequence of Sound
L’Ami du Peuple, or “friend of the people,” does the job its title promises: a man of sensitive depth and veteran pain offering light at the end of the tunnel.
That the seventh album from Mike Kinsella' post-American Football vehicle is a work of sly, artful brilliance should come as no real surprise - outside of Ted Leo and Doug Martsch, Kinsella is probably the most innovative guitarist of his mid-to-late '90s indie-rock cohort.
L’Ami du Peuple, Owen’s seventh full-length, expands nicely on singer-songwriter Mike Kinsella’s ability to write dynamically. Twin singles “Bad Blood” and “Coffin Companions” function as foot-stomp fodder, with the former actually having a Bic-worthy electric-guitar solo to boot.
L’Ami du Peuple timidly captures a more progressive Owen, blanketing single-themed releases for weathered material that’s downbeat, introspective, and distinctly poetic.