Album Review: ‘L’ami du Peuple’ by Owen

Natalie Montaner / Contributing Writer

Formally of the band American Football, Mike Kinsella began his solo project, Owen, in 2001 after the band separated. Also famous within the Chicago scene for being a former member of the bands Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz and Owls (among others), Kinsella’s solo venture is a departure from the established sounds of his previous projects.

Albeit a departure, consistent elements remain – enough so that his solo project is unique and able to stand-alone but still feels like a natural progression from where he musically once was.

Owen’s seventh full length album, “L’Ami du Peuple,” gets its name from a French publication under the same name written during the French Revolution and is an assembly of understated acoustic layering, poignant lyrics and smooth and melancholic vocals. More mature in its content and lyrics, Kinsella shows that Owen is a grown-up production while touching upon some disagreeable subjects.

In the opening verse of “I Got High,” Kinsella sings “I’ve been sitting here the better part of 18 years; blank stare, blank canvas. I’m in need of a new view or some new scenery to render,” seemingly expressing the need to break free of where he’s been stuck in.

Throughout the soft melodies and captivating guitar instrumentation, he longs for a new start and envelopes the yearning that lies in the hearts of many beautifully.

In the verses and choruses of “Bad Blood,” we see Kinsella touch upon family issues and not necessarily being proud of where he came from – criticizing his “bad blood.”

With the following verse: “A poor grandfather so painfully shy, he couldn’t leave the house without a tall one. A dumb grandmother suffered by his side, she’d rather live in hell than die alone,” we see how Owen digs up and points fingers at less than perfect grandparents.

Not fitting in and critiquing those who make up his family tree, Kinsella bemoans of “the burning urge to flee…”and a “…hereditary mob you can’t run away from.”

Kinsella’s style of writing isn’t usually obvious and in your face, but it is neither too vague or obscure. He manages to easily get his message across without obviously having to spell out what he’s trying to express. With that, Kinsella is able to relate to his audience smoothly.

Although labeled as an acoustic singer-songwriter project, Kinsella doesn’t shy away from the use of bold drumming, twinkling pianos, violins and other instruments. Listeners are shown this in “Blues to Black,” where very gentle vocals and strumming lead the way to mini explosions of sound layered with beautiful harmonies flowing about.

Kinsella’s subtle ability to layer instruments in a way where they both compliment each other but still show individual complexity is not only shown in “Blues to Black,” but rather is a recurring trend and exemplified throughout the album – notably in “Coffin Companions,” ”The Burial,” “Who Cares?” and “Vivid Dreams.” It’s a fundamental trait of his musical style and his compositions are unlike many others because of this.

Owen is a beautiful blend of subtle, yet complex acoustic guitars and moving lyrics all tied in with the soothing vocals of Kinsella. Although a low-key style of playing and production, Owen’s “L’Ami du Peuple” is able to captivate listeners with its melodies and compositions.

Making Chicago proud, Kinsella produced another brilliant album he’s able to add to his already great resume.

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