Label: Polyvinyl Release date: 22/09/09 Website: MySpace I imagine it must be a tiny bit frustrating for Mike Kinsella. No matter what he does, the internet is full of people ready to chime in for the hundredth time with forum posts claiming that he hit his prime with a band he fronted ten years ago, or the band he played drums for in high-school, or that he’s not as good as his brother and blah, blah, blah. As the most consistent and accessible post-Cap’n Jazz project, he has steadily released amazing records for eight years whilst the rest of his former bandmates split up after one or two records, or have a tendency to be hard to find and a little esoteric. So here are the facts: 1. This is a new Owen album. 2. This is the first new Owen album in three years. 3. This is the first new Owen album since Mike Kinsella became a father. Which is probably relevant somehow. The name New Leaves promises big changes, a new chapter, something different. Those who have paid close attention to Owen releases for the past eight years, however, will already be used to this. Each record has been different to the one before it, from the ethereal-sounding self-titled, to the sharp folky twang and clarity of No Good For No One Now, the beginnings of a fuller sound on I Do Perceive and the elegance of At Home With Owen. New Leaves, too, is noticeably different, possibly with some of the biggest changes yet, but still definably Owen. Louder and poppier are two ways to describe it, with the backing band sounding fuller and more involved than ever, meaning the typical acoustic guitar even takes a back seat from time to time to let others take over, such as on ‘Ugly On The Inside’, which features jarring piano parts that drive the song to a close, and the eerie violin that dominates ‘A Trenchant Critique’. Usually it bothers me when my favourite singer-songwriters go for a full band sound, but here it works perfectly as, for once, there are outright happy songs on an Owen record, with upbeat lyrics and a cheerful tone that reflect the changes in Kinsella’s life. ‘Good Friends With Bad Habits’, originally released as a demo over a year ago, has changed a great deal to become the album’s first single, adding a hazy synth part, twinkly electric guitars and a rhythm section that keeps the song rolling along , and is one of the album’s highlights. So too is ‘Amnesia and Me’, a simple and sweet, if ever so vaguely cynical love song: Amnesia’s a pretty word/ to speak aloud and write/ so I shall use it as a nickname/ for the girl I have in my life/ she’s not the sum of what she owns/and she ain’t cavalier with the skin she shows/and she has saved me/from the questions in my life/that have plagued me/and now I know who I am/a tongue-biting one woman man. The songs contained on New Leaves are generally shorter than is typical for an Owen album, reaching ten tracks for the first time, but having a shorter run time than all but one of the full lengths. Nothing is over five minutes, which means that this is some of his most direct and straightforward songwriting to date. It’s clear that Mike Kinsella is maturing as a songwriter and as a person - New Leaves is about growing up, changing priorities and finding out what is important to you. And with that, I prove that I should never try to review bands that I truly love because I just can’t do it. But please, trust me, New Leaves is an absolutely beautiful album, stuffed with charming songs. Although, no matter what your preferences are, it’s not the best album under the Owen name, it’s also far from the worst (or, least-good), and an incredibly strong contender for album of the year. Listen for yourself:
Rating: 9/10