Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Album Review: Owen - L'Ami du Peuple

Album Rating: A
Anytime a new Owen album surfaces, there somehow always manages to be a place for it on my list of top releases. L'Ami du Peuple is no different - Kinsella's fine ear for instrumentalism continually improves, and each of his releases are essentially stepping stones towards the newest point in his musical history. The emotional presence on each of his albums is slightly varied as the man himself grows to adopt new ideas and his own life story changes a little bit every couple of years, but it's no less present on this album as his self-titled debut. In fact, probably the most impressive thing about Mike Kinsella is his ability to reflect a different side of himself on each album, and L'Ami du Peuple is a powerful example of just that.

The record is Owen's most upbeat record so far. This may lend itself to Kinsella doing much of the recording while he was working on Their / They're / There's debut at the same time, but it's definitely a different sound for the solo project. Any of his prior releases could easily be music to fall asleep to, but this album has plenty of presence, and a lot of the flair that we've only really seen from Mike in more recent years. This may be what makes the album fantastic: Kinsella easily could have reverted to the soft acoustic side that we heard on Ghost Town, part of New Leaves, and almost all of At Home With Owen, but "Blues To Black" has a chorus that comes out swinging, choir vocals and crash cymbals being little used in his prior repertoire but very prominent in what could well be his loudest piece to date.

The songwriting process for L'Ami du Peuple was, according to Kinsella, quite different than any of his other records. For just about everything else, he would sit down in his own home and record a couple of songs that he already had ideas for. However, the writing was much more organic, but according to Polyvinyl, Kinsella "just let each song happen as [he] heard them and had a lot of fun trying some new things." That may explain why the first leak from the LP, "Bad Blood," had a much differed sound, with technical drum-pounding, the sharp minor-key interludes, or the 80's guitar solos before and during the last verse. Then again, Polyvinyl also states Kinsella has an 80's hair-metal obsession, so perhaps he's finally letting his inner freak out.

L'Ami du Peuple's lyricism is pretty powerful. In Ghost Town, Mike confronted old memories of his parents and talks sweetly in "O, Evelyn," gradually accepting his role as a father and giving advice to his child. In his most recent LP, though, he features himself prominently as a father and a family provider, and talks about what he worries about in his newly discovered position in his life. In the blues-influenced "Where Do I Begin," he talks to his spouse, "I'm fat and I'm drunk and you love me / the kids are a little weird but they're happy / and I never made good on the money I said I'd make" in a light-hearted way that still manages to display some concern for his entire family's well-being. In a seamless musical transition, this track becomes "Vivid Dreams." Here, Mike frets about the future, realizing he's getting older and holding more responsibility: "How long have I been sleeping? / I'm a dad, and my dad's dead / So much has changed / Even our skies look different," and I think this is probably something that lots of people actually have to go through once the time comes, where they're their own caretaker and they need to be the shoulder for others to be able to lean on. However, he resolves his fears in a beautifully written duet between a finger-picked acoustic and a piano, and Kinsella's maturity shines through in the end.

Owen's most recent LP has shown what Mike Kinsella is capable of, both idealistically and musically. He's an immensely talented individual and has many messages to share with the world through each of his albums and collaborations. The culmination of all of these efforts is clear and visible in L'Ami du Peuple, which stands out as a very sophisticated album that feels as organic as it does professional. The track listing is absolutely phenomenal and the release strays from Kinsella's comfort zones, embracing any and all influences that came to him in his few months of recording. It's a moving effort, a joy to listen to, and easily one of the best things in his entire repertoire.

The album comes out later today on July 2! You can order it on the Polyvinyl store page and it will be available on the Bandcamp page fairly soon as well. Meanwhile, you can stream the whole album for FREE on Spin!

Track Listing:
1. I Got High
2. Blues To Black
3. Love Is Not Enough
4. Coffin Companions
5. The Burial
6. Bad Blood
7. Who Cares
8. A Fever
9. Where Do I Begin
10. Vivid Dreams

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