Friday, 19 July 2013

Owen - L’ami Du Peuple

Album review by

Ah, so the modern world gives us instant knowledge, and with one quick 'Google' I found that this title does not mean my naive translation (I went for 'People's Friend'), it means 'The Friends of People', (so I was close), but the search yielded a much greater reward. 'L'ami du Peuple' was; “the most celebrated radical paper of the revolution”, advocating rights for the masses. And so I find myself already receiving gifts from Chicago’s Mike Kinsella under his guise as Owen, that are surprising and rather wonderful, quite like his music. On this, his seventh album, we are enticed into 'L'Ami…' by the lovely opener 'I Got High'. At its core it's a simple folk song given a shimmering, blissful feel with deft touches of twinkling sound. We hear a tale of the lovelorn, a longing for an "art teacher of mine, a boat leaving, to where I don’t know". But 'I Got High' is no wallow in the melancholy, rather it has a childlike sense of euphoria to it, like Sufjan Stevens without the excess.

'Blues to Black' walks in the same steps as Windmill, it has more layers sonically, but not at the cost of the melodic sense of wonder that already integrally inhabits the album. We listen to tiny lyrical observations of "fearless insects in my mouth", then as the song stretches out you hear of "tonight I sleep in the gutter". An enchanting female vocal sits in the background, almost watching over. And so to 'Love', a song simple yet bewitching, honest, reminding that however much we want to survive on love alone, it won’t feed us. A trip to London told as the lovers fell together, then that "love is not enough" as sombre, yet enchanting strings take us to the close. After the opening triptych of quite magical songs we step into the albums next track 'Coffin Companion'.  We are given more perfectly observed lyrical thoughts that we all have. Where Owen asks, "what if we don’t set (the alarm clock)?".  The song had a freshness brought to it by the seductively sparse undertones that are awash with little sonic dashes, such as an almost child's keyboard winding through the song's latter half. We reach 'L'ami…'s mid-point with the most sedate and genteel track so far. 'The Burial' has near dreamlike feel to it, while words juxtapose the sweetness of the music, "we could just lie here like corpses". A song where it is all falling apart and the love is starting sour, all the while soundtracked by the most lovely strings and vocals.

Now the end seems to have come, and the love we heard of has stepped into the dark, and the vitriol is almost venomous. 'Bad Blood' is hued from a darker, impassioned place and a throbbing bass and Talking Heads-style guitar makes its mark. So the fire of hurt has died, and all that is left is the yearning hollow inside. 'Who Cares' perfectly encapsulates this emptiness, the desire to run away and start again. That feeling of utter apathy to the world for the loss is too much; "sweetheart I'm moving on". 'Who Cares' is one of the most powerful songs on the album, not because it hits you with bombast, but from its sheer presence in all ways. 'A Fever' is the most structurally conventional song here, but it is no lesser of a song for it. It has a delightful pop melody riding in it and houses a touch of Prince-like guitar mastery, all in bubble of charm that tells that maybe love can happen again.

And so the album's closing couplet. Tall and jauntily, 'Where Do I Begin' dances in on a luscious fairground vibe and it has perhaps the album's most eloquent and exquisite line of "the floorboards squeak as if in pain". The song is almost a rebirth after the love and loss of that came before, blinking into the new day. Then we find ourselves at the end of  'L'ami du Peuple' with ‘Where Do I Begin' seamlessly segueing into 'Vivid Dreams'. It is built around nothing more than of perfectly plucked guitar and a piano, and then the sublime surprise comes. "Was I asleep?" is asked, and then we are lead to the album's final, redemptive, closing line: "so glad I found you". Owen has given us an album that is a true journey through love and life, all the while wrapped in a musical coat that is as varied and rewarding as that journey itself.

Owen's website

Buy the album

Catch him live:

Aug 01 Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, CA
Aug 02 The Constellation Room, Santa Ana, CA
Aug 03 Troubadour, West Hollywood, CA
Oct 12 The Prophet Bar, Dallas, TX
Oct 28 Shindaita Fever, Tokyo, Japan
Oct 29 APOLLO THEATER, Nagoya Shi, Japan
Oct 30 Metro, Kyoto Shi, Japan  
Oct 31 Conpass, Osaka Shi, Japan  
Nov 01 ALECX, Matsumoto, Japan
Nov 02 ERA, Tokyo, Japan

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