Mike Kinsella is no ordinary man, and his one-man show under the moniker Owen is no ordinary project. Though it’s hard to pinpoint Owen to a genre — with its blend of emo, indie and probably anything else you could conjure up — Kinsella makes it work and never misses. His 10th LP under Owen, The Avalanche, is his most vulnerable yet, and that’s saying a lot for the most openly melancholic, self-deprecatory man in the industry.
Kinsella’s total discography is pages long. Hailing from Illinois and literally being the epitome of midwestern emo, he’s more well-known as the frontman of the groundbreaking math rock group American Football, among a handful of other bands, both past and still making music. Owen released its self-titled debut in 2001 and has aged like a fine wine since.
Owen is cathartic for Kinsella and thought-provoking for those willing to listen. The Avalanche, just like the remainder of Owen’s catalogue, tackles struggling with love, dealing with loss and self-deprecation, but it’s the fine-tuning that makes this album stand out. The older albums have tracks with lengthy instrumentals that can be excessive at times, and while those are invariably lush and never fail to produce an ethereal effect, The Avalanche keeps it concise yet just as dreamy.
The two singles, “A New Muse” and “On With The Show,” were immaculate on their own, yet the other seven tracks practically blow them out of the water. “Headphoned” is the most like Owen’s older content, with Kinsella’s gentle string-plucking and stimulative synths helping to depict what it’s like to turn your music on and forget the world. On “Wanting And Willing,” Kinsella doesn’t know what the girl he loves truly wants and begs her to take a chance on him. Kinsella is one of the greatest songwriters of this generation, and since no track here misses for even a second, The Avalanche is only further proof of that.
Here are the best three tracks from The Avalanche:
3. “Mom And Dead (feat. KC Dalager)”
Kinsella has never concealed his complicated relationship with his dad (see Owen’s “No Language” or American Football’s “Uncomfortably Numb” for reference), but it’s approached a bit differently on “Mom And Dead.” Kinsella never got a proper goodbye from his dad, and there seems to be a perpetual void in his life because of it. He doesn’t know who he is anymore, and with the help of KC Dalager from the indie rock group Now, Now, he’s finally ready to ask the tough, reflective questions: “How long can we exist in between what we say and what we mean?” The delicate guitar and subtle strings are literally restorative.
2. “The Contours”
Kinsella’s vocal tone is out of this world on “The Contours.” As he watches himself stray further and further from the one he loves since their relationship was lacerated due to his own selfishness, he can’t help but hate himself. Surrounded by forlorn drums, strings that are to die for, subdued keys and a gorgeous guitar line, Kinsella admits each obstacle is never overcome, and everything always comes full circle: “I’m in therapy; she’s in therapy / Turns out all the answers are just questions for next week’s sessions.” Despite no progress, he loves her. He knows he has to let her go, but he wants to savor her one last time, pleading, “Can I call you mine for one more night?”
1. “Dead For Days”
This is the most up close and personal we get to knowing Kinsella’s dad and how he has and will continue to impact his son’s state of mind. After having to digest his dad’s death from a head injury — presumably caused by inebriation, as Kinsella has frequently discussed his dad’s alcoholism — Kinsella faded away from his closest friends and wife. The strings and guitar are soothing but seemingly juxtapose Kinsella’s frustration: “The only thing I learned from that man is I’d rather be estranged than next of kin.” As he continues to self-decay, he’s gradually becoming hypocritical, imagining he’ll grow to be just like his dad and experience a similar death. He also has a message for his family: “I’m riding a fine line, an accidental overdose or suicide / Tell my mom she was right all along / And tell my kids this is where my head hit.” The track and its poignant lyrics will echo in your mind for a long time, and it’s the best on The Avalanche.