L’Ami du Peuple
Polyvinyl Records, 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
Since 2001, Mike Kinsella’s been making brilliant, haunting tunes with wry, witty lyrics under the moniker, Owen. On May 14th he’ll be releasing his eight full-length CD, L’Ami du Peuple. It’s sounds like a recharged Mike, after two good but slightly overly melancholy CDs, New Leaves and Ghost Town. When I first got L’Ami du PeupleI was thrilled to hear gray of recent past replaced by some purples, blues and reds. His upbeat, electric version of “A Fever”, which I first heard on a “Daytrotter Session” which he had done (http://www.daytrottersession.com) a few years ago. This “A Fever” was much more punctuated, which was natural, of course, since it had rhythm and more buzz to it.
Owen has always been a forum for Mike to do his own thing, to write songs that are hauntingly honest, sincere, introspective and, at times, self-effacing. Being a multi-instrumentalist, Mike’s done most if not all of the work on all Owen releases. Besides being a great guitarist, with a great talent for finger picking, he is one hell of a drummer as well, which can also be heard occasionally on Joan of Arc albums or on the brilliant but only American Football CD that came out in 1999 and on the other projects with whom he’s played.
On L’Ami du Peuple Mike sounds like he’s gotten over the new-father-jitters that haunted the previous work, Ghost Town. Songs like “Too Many Moons” and “No Place Like Home” are examples of this thread. While well-written and staying in the same artistic, wry wit, he sounded unsure of what to think about his new role as a dad. Well, that self-doubt seems to have given way to self-assurance or at least he’s got it down to a routine. The new album is more relaxed, more focused on his life as inspiration for art and vice versa. Songs such as “Coffin Companions”, “Who Cares?” and “A Fever” sound less gloomy and have more of a joie de vivre in them. The last two cuts: “Where Do I Begin” and “Vivid Dreams” are both more of the old Mike; songs about relationships, redemption and the ethereal. The former is a sparse tune, Mike singing over some of that great finger picking on the guitar and some piano over on the side. “Where Do I Begin” goes straight into “Vivid Dreams” without taking a breath; one ends and the other begins as if they are two parts of the same song, which, musically, they are: same finger-picking guitar licks and same piano notes. Even the vocal notes are the same, they’re just a continuation. A very witty way to end a great, wry album.
I recently read, in an interview with Mike, with Tweed Magazine, where he is quoted as saying that a lot of the songs he writes “are about girls, sleeping, or my teeth…” I don’t buy that, myself. There are various tunes that reflect different angles of relationships and the baggage that goes with them, etc.. but I’ve never heard them as being “songs about girls”. Now, the thing about sleep – I can name at least one tune about sleep – or at least about staying in bed all day, which is probably one of my favorite Owen song; definitely my favorite song from my favorite Owen CD, I Do Perceive: “Bed Abuse”: “I spend/Most days/In this bed that I abuse/On these pillows/That you can get used to/I spend/Most days/Putting off that which can’t wait/Until I’m knee deep/In my own waste…” – “Bed Abuse”, although it may sound like a song about incessant sex (abusing the bed by constantly rattling the frame and the springs in the mattress, etc.), but which is, a song about someone (Mike?) who prefers to stay home, in the comfort of his bed instead of going out in the unforgiving Chicago air and being around too many people – a song that spoke directly to me and seemed like it was written about me, since I too enjoy being in the comfort of my bed sometimes as opposed to going out and doing the same old routine day in, day out. Of course, in reality that isn’t something that isn’t practical; I mean, you have to get up and eat sometime, you have to go out and go grocery shopping or buy cigarettes or have breakfast at a diner close by; maybe go see a band you really like at a club once in a while, etc. But “Bed Abuse” does make a good argument, though. As for the “teeth” thing, I may have to re-listen to my Owen CDs again to listen for references to teeth. Freud said that dreams in which you’re teeth are crumbling and falling out are symbols for fear of castration, so maybe the hang up with teeth is an unconscious fear of being emasculated; hmm.
On L’Ami du Peuple, you can hear the time Mike put in to make the songs just right, the lyrics fitting and the continuity in perfect order. This is, I’d say, the best Owen CD since At Home With Owen. Like all of Owen’s albums, it’s taut, orderly and fabulous.
Last August Owen, to my amazement, finally came to my town of San Diego, CA to play a gig with labelmates, Braid. Unfortunately, due to the awful public transit system here and my not having a car at the time, I was late in getting there and since the ticket itself didn’t read what time the doors opened or the concert began, I had to guess – and since many concerts start a little later than when they say they’re going to, I took that chance and ended up losing (but, as I said, it wasn’t entirely my fault: the bus ride was excruciatingly long; I’ll NEVER ride that bus again!) Anyway, so by the time I did get down to the North Park neighborhood it was near 9:00pm and once I got past the front door and into the auditorium, Owen had just started playing his very last song of the evening: “Too Many Moons” from Ghost Town. I was completely disheartened and depressed. I had waited years to see him and this had to happen! Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I stuck around afterward to see Braid play their set (I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with them, having reviewed an EP of theirs about 6 months or so previously). But I just didn’t get into it. They were a bit too “Emo” for me. The songs sort of all bled together and I don’t remember any that stick out in my memory. Well, they took the stage at around 10 and after about a half an hour of the show I headed for the door and left, feeling empty. Here’s hoping that Owen does another swing through San Diego so I can finally see him do a full set and feel complete again. -KM.