Owen - The King of Whys

by Kenzie Fitzpatrick Rating:9 Release Date:2016-08-04

Mike Kinsella is well aware of his reputation. In a statement about his latest offering under the moniker of Owen, The King of Whys, Kinsella says, “There are Internet memes about how sad I am.” While the memes are fairly accurate, you would imagine that they don't phase him anymore. It is 2016, after all. “For a while I was pretty self conscious about my songwriting…I just feel there are enough love songs playing at grocery stores – I can write about darker stuff.”

Unsurprisingly, dark themes abound on the new album. Kinsella touches on addiction, alcoholism, and loss in a relatable and conversational way with the utmost honesty.

The themes throughout TKOW are not all that distinguishes this album from the rest of Owen’s musical catalog. The King of Whys is the only Owen album to be recorded outside of Kinsella’s longtime city of residence, Chicago. Additionally, while recording this album, Kinsella collaborated with S. Carey of Bon Iver (who also produced the album), among others. For someone who has spent much of his musical career writing and recording in the comfort of his own home, you might imagine, like me, that making these adjustments might have felt quite intimidating initially. However, they work for Kinsella (and his company), and quite well, at that.

Just three songs into the album, the stunning ‘Lovers Come and Go’ shimmers and shines. It declares that, while lovers may "come and go," the good ones "are incapable of faking it."

Both the captivating ‘Tourniquet’ (which happens to be pleasantly reminiscent of 2006's At Home With Owen), and ‘A Burning Soul’ shift the focus to alcoholism. 'Tourniquet', directs the focus inward, musing on Kinsella himself and his own tendencies. On 'A Burning Soul', he examines the long-term effects of his father's struggle with alcoholism. "I'm not a saint," he sings, shifting once more to himself. While that may sound harsh, he's not exactly wrong. He is, however, refreshingly sincere.

Songs like ‘Saltwater’ feature some of Kinsella’s classic, biting lyrics. He croons, “You’re as clever as you are alone,” and “Those books may console you / But they won’t keep you warm.” ‘Sleep Is a Myth’ calls back to both ‘Everyone Feels Like You’, with the line “Bring out what’s dead and dying,” and makes mention of a ‘Stolen Bike,’ which is sure to make Owen’s most enduring fans smile.

TKOW may be Owen’s ninth album, but it doesn’t feel like it. The King of Whys feels familiar in the way that all Owen albums do, but builds on Kinsella’s signature guitar-playing and lyrical style - adding interesting new elements which allow the music to feel as fresh as it does familiar. Mike Kinsella’s ability to consistently reinvent his sound to keep fans interested and engaged is what makes Owen so inspirational to many.

One of the best things about Owen is that every album comes from a different place. Regardless at what stage of life you are in - there is always something from Owen that will be relevant. Whether it's a single line, song, or (if you're like me) an album in its entirety. It’s like an old friend. You know, the kind of friend where years pass and, despite that, the next time you are able to catch up, it somehow feels as though no time has passed at all. That’s when you know that your friendship (or, in this case, the music) is truly special. And The King of Whys is no exception.

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