“Gravity had a change of heart
I fell for the hell of it
I fell for it all”
Mike “The Architect of Modern Emo” Kinsella, is back with new material for the first time since American Football’s phenomenally successful reunion tour launched in 2014.
The Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist has played a major role in shaping the sound of Midwestern Emo since the late 90’s through his various projects in addition to Owen including Owls, Cap’n Jazz, Their / They’re / There and of course the aforementioned and undeniably essential American Football.
His breadth of work is impressive but so too is the depth. Owen is Kinsella’s main project which he took up following the breakup of American Football in 2001. He has since released an impressive 9 albums alongside a handful of splits and EPs.
However, The King of Whys is somewhat new territory for Kinsella in a couple of ways. The album was recorded over two separate nine day sessions in Eau Claire, Wisconsin marking the first time he recorded an album outside of the greater Chicago area. It’s also the first Owen record with an outside producer and backing musicians. The album was produced by Bon Iver’s Sean Carey with Jeremy Botcher (bass), Ben Lester (guitar, keys), Michael Noyce (viola), and Andy Hofer (horns) rounding out the rest of the ensemble.
“The result is an Americana-informed, lushly textured ten-track record, with few algebraic moments. A slowed-down, soothing take on Owen’s acoustic sound guides meditative narratives on fatherhood, marriage, and melancholy.” – Natalie Caamano for Spin
Just because the songs have been filled out from their acoustic skeleton doesn’t mean Owen’s lyrical prowess has changed. However, now married and a father of two, Kinsella’s subject matter has shifted to discuss new matters since when he started this solo project 15 years ago. His words are still self-reflective, poignant and cover a variety of subjects from alcoholism to love, family, and everything in between.
It’s honest and emotive American folk rock.
Ian Cohen for Pitchfork writes, “Much of The King of Whys takes that tone of one-sided mental arguments, ones that could probably decimate any relationship if they were verbalized. But for better or worse, Kinsella’s had too many drinks or worked too many hours to take it there. There are some incredibly ugly things expressed on The King of Whys, but the tone never suggest Kinsella endorses them.”
The lyrics might be dark and bitter at times but they’re heartfelt and easily relatable.
“In my defense I was raised by a blind man on fire / Who was raised to lip sync in his church choir / So I’m not a saint and I’m not a singer.” (A Burning Soul)
“Stay poor and die trying / Take the drugs I didn’t take / Lay the whores I didn’t lay / ’Cause I was too afraid that I might like it.” (Lost)
There are also plenty of moments where his lyrics aren’t as cathartic or overflowing with melancholy. The songs are always calm, upbeat, and bring about a relaxed happiness to the listener. Kinsella is just a good dude who has been making good music for a long time.
During recording, “A lot of the nights, it was just me in the house. The guys were like, ‘Okay, see you tomorrow!’ [Laughs.] It was in the middle of nowhere. It was super snowy, so if I looked outside, all I could see was my own reflection in my pajamas. And then I just started thinking, ‘Oh my god, there could be a murderer out there and I’d have no idea!’ ‘Cause you couldn’t see; it was pitch black outside. It was great!”
Stream it below and mellow out to the Midwest.