The strangest thing about Chicago indie artist Owen isn’t that his name isn’t actually Owen (it’s actually Mike Kinsella).  Instead, it’s that the artist receives so much support from the punk community.  His latest album, Ghost Town (released November 8th), has been promoted on several punk websites alongside much heavier, louder, and faster new releases.  Fans of hardcore punk bands often consider themselves fans of Owen as well.

That recognition is unusual because the type of music Kinsella makes under the Owen moniker is essentially the antithesis of punk: slow, dreamy, acoustic guitar/piano-driven music with softly-sung lyrics.  While folk/punk acts make raucous use of their acoustic instruments, Owen does not.  In that sense, he’s less folk/punk and more a guy with punk street cred making folk music.  Except that it’s not exactly folk music.  It contains elements of that genre— acoustic guitar, focus on lyricism, etc., but the music is complexly arranged and the introspective lyricism is equally as complicated and poetic.  In fact, Kinsella’s not too distant from John Darnielle of Mountain Goats fame.

Of course, much of Owen’s punk street cred comes from the fact that he played in Cap’n Jazz, a pioneering band of the midwestern emo genre that has since spawned several prominent Chicago indie bands (many of which Mike Kinsella has also been a part).

Owen’s latest effort, Ghost Town, has been described as containing some of his “loudest, rock-leaning moments to date.”  Before punk fans get too excited about the possibility of Kinsella incorporating elements of Cap’n Jazz into Owen’s music, they should realize that that claim is only in relation to his earlier releases (although the album was recording while Kinsella was on the road for Cap’n Jazz’s reunion tour).  If Ghost Town has Owen’s “loudest” songs, that should give first-time listeners a sense of how quiet his other efforts are.  Click here to listen to one such song, the title track from Owen’s last release New Leaves, on Earbits Radio.

Still, Ghost Town sounds fairly similar to Owen’s previous albums.  It begins with the soft and subdued “Too Many Moons,” which features a complexly arranged, driving acoustic guitar loop.  The next couple of songs are similar— they feature immensely complex musical arrangement as Kinsella softly and calmly sings about dark subjects (the subject of ghosts often arises, which ultimately led Kinsella to his choice of album title).

Ghost Town’s best moment arrives on track four, a song entitled “I Believe.”  The song features a choir-like refrain of “Hallelujah, I just found Jesus,” that would sound angelic were it not for Kinsella’s haunting lyrics that follow, such as “I just found Jesus / Swimming at the bottom / of the bottle I keep crawling out of.”  Despite the song’s heavy, dark, content it’s catchy, upbeat and memorable.

In fact, that’s the way most of Ghost Town sounds.  It features melancholy lyricism yet interestingly-composed music that begs for close and careful listening.  The album ends with a fuzzed-out, dirty (in a good way) guitar solo on top of yet another brightly shimmering acoustic finger-picked loop, hinting at what Kinsella might be able to accomplish if he truly lets his Cap’n Jazz experience creep further into his solo act.  That’s an interesting idea to ponder, but Ghost Town is an incredible album as is.

I just ordered my copy of the album (on limited edition clear vinyl… along with a t-shirt!) via Polyvinyl Records’ website. Whether you’re a fan of fast punk rock or slow acoustic indie, it’s likely you’ll find something enjoyable in Owen’s music.

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