Owen/Into It (Split EP)
Polyvinyl Records, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
A brand new set of tunes, emerging on this split EP, which is a joint effort between Mike Kinsella (aka Owen) and Into It. The EP is Over It, a collection of four tunes, two of which were written by Kinsella (“Poison Arrows” and “Poor Souls”). The latter two are Into It songs: “Local Language” and “Anchor”.
All four songs fit well together in one way, and that is that none of them are over three minutes long. But, beyond that, it’s quite easy to tell the difference between between the Owen songs and the Into It songs: Owen was his usual, introspective, sometimes melancholy or mournful, other times yearning, a hopeful, positive spin on what is to come in life.
Into It. Over It. is the brainchild of Evan Weiss, he of bands such as The Progress, Stay Ahead of the Game and Pet Symmetry. For a split EP collaboration like this, these two are a great fit: Ever since he branched out into solo territory, after being in the band that started it all, Cap’n Jazz, to Owls, American Football and appearing sporadically on some albums of his brother, Tim’s band, Joan of Arc, Mike kicked off a solo “career”, albeit one that gave him plenty of latitude in terms of when he wanted to do it and when he wanted to play with another band or artist. Thus was born Owen, Mike’s alter ego. Owen isn’t a band; Mike plays most, if not all the instruments and sings: he’s got a great skill for both drums and the guitar and, knowing the guitar as well as having a sense of rhythm, playing the bass is not a hard job, either. Anyway, since the early 2000s, Kinsella has put out a number of albums under the Owen moniker: There was the “eponymous” (Owen) album, from 2001, then No Good For No One Now a year later. An EP came out in 2003, The Seaside and then, in late 2004, in my opinion, anyway, Mike-as-Owen put out his best work: I Do Perceive, a hauntingly melancholic as well as chilling, beautiful and hypnotic sort of collection of journal entries worked into songs. Beautiful and introspective stuff like “Note to Self”, “Playing Possum for a Peek”, the confessional and also favorite of mine, “Bed Abuse”, which is just a brilliantly beautiful song. A year or so later Owen was back with, what I think was his last really great album: At Home With Owen, which even featured a pleasant cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale”. After that, every year or two, Mike would come back and put another album’s worth of music out, New Leaves, Ghost Town and L’ami Du Peuple to name a few. They all had some shining moments of their own, true, but and like I said, it’s just my opinion, but, after the spine-tingling brilliance of I Do Perceive, the later works, good as they were, never surpassed I Do Perceive or At Home With Owen. Although, they all had aspects of moving forward in life, reflecting Mike’s own changing and forward-looking life; he became a father just around 2005 or so, had a wonderful, soul-mate of a wife with which he shares his life now and isn’t the same, single man, the kind who, when alone, tends to sometimes veer off the tracks, so to speak. So, following Owen’s career is a bit like following the continuing saga of Mike Kinsella, but in a deftly written, poetic way.
As for Evan Weiss, I know somewhat less about this indie fixture in the Chicago scene. I do know, though, from what I’ve heard, i.e., he, along with Mike Kinsella and guitarist Michael Frank, made an album under the name Their/They’re/There a couple years ago (look below for my review of their self-titled EP below). So far, anyway (who’s to say whether they’ll get back together and make more music in the near future?), they’ve put out two EPs, both in 2013, an eponymous one as well as Analog Weekend. I know that when I first listened to Their/They’re There’s self-titled EP, I was not instantly taken with it, a la I Do Perceive, which, incidentally, happened to be the first Owen album I reviewed, since the album came out in November, 2004, I got the CD itself in early 2005 and, it was on my second listening to I Do Perceive (I was still using a portable CD player -it would be another 8 months or so until I finally got an MP3, something which has really revolutionized the way I’m able to listen to music, at least when I’m out and about, as opposed to a big, bulky (in comparison) portable CD player or, before that, a pocket-busting, cassette playing “Walkman”-style portable stereo; I know “Walkman” is a trademark, a brand name for Sony’s version of their contribution to personal stereos: they were the first ones to come out with a “Walkman”, back in the early 80s, but, the name “Walkman”, not unlike, say, “Kleenex” or “Xerox”, has become such a ubiquitously used term and such a fitting name that after so long using the term “Walkman” to refer to portable tape players, then CD players, I just (and I imagine, many other people did too) got used to referring to any brand of “personal stereos”-which, you gotta admit, just doesn’t have the same descriptive use as the word “Walkman”has. Anyway, so, as I was getting to: the second time I popped the CD, I Do Perceive into my CD player, during a time while I happened to be out walking, coming back from one errand I had to go to and on my way back to another, I put it on, it started off and, before the first song was over, I was just hooked. Needless to say, the review I ended up writing gave a warm reception to the album; hell, it was almost as if I was writing an ad for free for this CD, even though, I wouldn’t have stooped to such cheapening prose. But I did want to tell the whole world how great an album this was and, indeed, wanted to share its beauty, its graceful melancholy with anyone and everyone I could.
So, in that vein, I’ve got mixed emotions about Over It: Owen’s contribution as well as the terrific cover of “Poor Souls” that Into It did make up a great 1st half, but the 2nd half -well, two out of four songs, anyway, but, technically, that is half, nonetheless – just did not greatly impress me or “wow” me. Asked for a one-word description of Into It’s music, I would reply “adequate” – or maybe “sufficient”, not “necessary”, but indeed, sufficient. But, to be honest, I’m just glad that, even though it’s only one song -and one well-done cover of his “Poor Souls”, it’s nice to hear something “new(?)” from Owen. I just hope that, good as it was, the next full-length Owen album will be a more “driving”, or maybe “driven”, set of tunes, for instance, a few that could surpass the ones that weren’t so awesome on L’ami du Peuple”.
Anyway, do the right thing and check it out for yourselves! You’ll be enlightened. -KM.