Heartbreak, melodic intricacy, and lush arrangements shape Owen’s tenth album, The Avalanche | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Heartbreak, melodic intricacy, and lush arrangements shape Owen’s tenth album, The Avalanche 

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click to enlarge Mike Kinsella

Mike Kinsella

Photo by Atiba Jefferson

Few indie-rock artists are more prolific than singer-songwriter Mike Kinsella, who’s been playing in Illinois bands since the late 80s, including Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and American Football. The latter band reunited in 2014 following a 14-year break and subsequently released two acclaimed albums, 2016’s American Football (or LP2) and last year’s American Football (LP3). Now the singer and multi-instrumentalist is set to release The Avalanche (Polyvinyl), the tenth studio album from his solo project, Owen. Produced by Bon Iver drummer and fellow musical Swiss army knife Sean Carey (who recorded Owen’s ninth LP, The King of Whys), the nine-song album is typical Kinsella: full of beautiful, intricate melodies, lush arrangements, and naked lyrics. Whatever the project, Kinsella pours his life into his writing, and The Avalanche is no exception. His lyrics on last year’s American Football LP were metaphorical and opaque, with allusions to heartbreak, self-medication, and a broken father-son relationship. By contrast, The Avalanche is straightforward about his personal issues, and frankly addresses the end of his marriage. Over the folksy acoustic melody, hushed brush strokes, and pedal steel of “Dead for Days,” Kinsella sings, “Now I’ve got friends that don’t know me / A wife that’s disowned me / You in concept only to miss / And I’ve been sober for over two weeks.” Accompanied by the light alt-country vibe of “The Contours,” he confesses, “I’m in therapy / She’s in therapy / Turns out all the answers are just questions / For next week’s sessions.” But perhaps most cutting is “Mom and Dead,” which is also the album’s most musically emotive song, with cascading guitars and a beautiful glockenspiel sequence over descending bowed cello. As the track slowly climaxes, Kinsella sings, “How can you live without me? / Who’ll pour your drinks? / Who’ll make your heart beat?” It’s often said that pain makes for great art, and The Avalanche is the latest proof.   v

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  • Owen

    Owen @ Sleeping Village

    • Fri., Nov. 6, 10 p.m.
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