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Owen | At Home With | review | alternative | Lollipop
At Home With (Polyvinyl)
by Tim Den
Incredible how, four solo records later, Owen (aka Mike Kinsella) continues to get better with each release. Just when I thought that (The EP) and I Do Perceive were gonna go down as his best work, At Home With comes along and proves that the beauty of fragility can be further refined yet.
The first album not to be recorded entirely at home by the multi-instrumentalist (despite the album title), At Home With - as Kinsella himself has stated - is also the first Owen endeavor to feel "three dimensional." Thank the superior gear at the professional studios (Semaphore and Engine Room) or the input of outside engineers (cousin Nate Kinsella and Brian Deck), but the instrumentation of the songs here comes alive more than it ever has on an Owen recording. There's more depth, more color, more differentiation between tones, etc., coming together to form layers and layers of flourishes that build dynamics you can almost visualize. When a small guitar lick - or backing vocals, upright bass, plucked harmonics - shows itself, it's highlighted without being obstructive, displaying all of its soft splendor without overpowering the entire mix or betraying the song's intent. In short, every move is rendered to be painstakingly appropriate, not to mention unique. It's a feat rarely accomplished in music as subdued and breathy as Owen's, and certainly not something Kinsella had excelled at previously.
As for the songs themselves, you know what to expect. Sad chords strummed, snapped, and hammered-on by the author's capable hands, while gorgeous lamentations flow from his mouth. But unlike his past efforts, the lyrical content of At Home With branches outside of familiar territory and encounters ego (opener "Bad News"), death and aging ("One of These Days"), and the sometimes monotony of touring ("Windows and Doorways"), a refreshing change of pace from Kinsella's usual obsession with love and sex. There's plenty of personal drama here, too, but it's a far cry from the whinny No Good For No One Now. Thank goodness.
Showing that he can seemingly hone his craft endlessly, At Home With is without a doubt Kinsella's best work to date. He seems to have embraced the possibilities of leaving comfort behind and venturing out of his niche, even if it's only baby steps (don't expect hip hop or thrash from the guy, alright?). And as the quality of this album shows, maybe that's all he needs to do every release to keep things interesting. With his understanding of songwriting and serenading, just the right amount of variation in his surroundings will produce a winner every time.