In many ways it is not unreasonable to call Mike Kinsella one of the founding fathers of the emo scene that exploded in the mid-late 90s. His fingerprints can be traced throughout acts like American Football, Owls, Joan of Arc, and a few others. His most prolific output is under the solo moniker, Owen, which has just entered its fifteenth year of existence. Although his career with Owen will almost certainly be overshadowed by the lightning-in-a-bottle popularity of American Football (especially since the smashing success of their reunion tour last year), there is a lot notable work that can be uncovered in the artist’s solo catalog.
On The King of Whys, now nine LP’s in, Kinsella makes the rewarding decision to co-produce the record with Sean Carey (Bon Iver, S. Carey). The multi-instrumentalist adds a slew of different arrangements and creates a vast landscape that truly separates this from all other Owen records. It’s the kind of welcome addition that almost makes this the first of his albums to have that true full-band feel. It is Carey’s contributions that not only assist in expanding Kinsella’s range, but it played a major role in distracting 32 year-old me from the almost complete detachment from his vocal stylings. When I was first introduced to Owen, I was on the brink of graduating high school and very much into the sounds of The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, Saves The Day, and bands of the like, so Kinsella’s straight-forward, angsty emo delivery was tailor made for my interest at the time. Things are not the same now. When I listen to his vocals in 2016, it never comes without a certain loathsome wince, especially if I am not focusing on the words themselves.
Lyrically, Kinsella has always had a knack for finding insightful, hard-hitting personal plateaus, and The King of Whys is absolutely one of his best outings as a writer. I couldn’t ever slip into the category of “love” for the album, though, and it can be directly attributed to the fact that I have simply moved on from the whine-heavy emo vocal stylings well over a decade ago. Still, the work of Sean Carey strikes a powerful chord across many moments on the record, and it is undoubtedly worth a listen.