Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
For more than two decades, Kinsella has been a central figure in Chicago’s indie rock universe, serving multiple roles in a string of bands whose influence continues to resonate across a span of genres and musical approaches. A founding member – with his brother Tim – of Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls, Kinsella’s own vision first manifested via American Football’s cathartic rock, but for most of the years since 2002, through Owen’s raw homespun offerings. Adopting the solo singer/songwriter persona freed Kinsella from a lifetime working in collectives, giving him complete control over every aspect of his creativity.
Owen’s lo-fi, largely acoustic bedroom recordings have evolved over eight albums and myriad EPs into a more orchestrated approach reflective of Kinsella’s growing strength as a songwriter. The sheer songcraft on The King of Whys more than warrants the expanded production, Kinsella dissecting his own foibles and familial relationships with caustic wit and a mordant sense of self-awareness. “Lovers Come And Go” and the elegiac “Saltwater” see the songwriter processing his experiences as he approaches the big four-oh, using his art to learn how to be a better father and husband.
The King of Whys also touches on universals like addiction with “Empty Bottle,” the place where so many long dark nights of the soul begin, whether it’s the venerable Chicago club or a just-finished fifth. Songs like “A Burning Soul” – a scathing looks at how his dad’s alcoholism has affected his own young family – and the closing “Lost” are haunting and poignant, alighting upon such common themes as love and loss, rebirth and redemption.
An intimate singer/songwriter album recorded under contemporary circumstances, The King of Whys utilizes progressive techniques, song structures, and time signatures, but Owen’s introspective humanity is timeless. Having made music for a very long time, Mike Kinsella continues to push himself towards transcendence with honesty, artistic ambition, and a sense of real circumstance.