New Leaves (10.09, Polyvinyl Records)
For: American Football, Aloha, Damien Jurado
Byline: Sounds of settling.
After fronting some of the most influential, scene-starting bands such as American Football and The One Up Downstairs, spending most of his adult life touring, writing trechent critiques of himself his L'enfant Terrible of a stage persona, Mike Kinsella is ready to settle down. Recently wed and house broken, New Leaves is his homage to the normal life with all its moments of domestic bliss and pangs of regret from leaving his carefree young-adulthood behind. Lyically, these themes have been trod heavily by his earlier works, but Owen writes songs like he writes melodies, pulling out unseen truths out of repeated lines in a single key.
Up to this point Mike Kinsella's most complex song arrangements have been a product of his cottage industry recording set up. Acoustic guitars, pedals, occasional percussion and synths strewn about his mom's living room while he tries not to sing loud enough to wake anyone else in the house up. However, recording leisurely over the span of two years have led him into the legit studios of Brian Deck (Iron & Wine), Tim Iseler (Wilco) and Graeme Gibson (Califone). The new found clarity and professionalism shows, but it is difficult to describe how. Mike Kinsella has a perfectly idiosyncratic and immediately recognizable sound palate used in every release. His intricately plucked, repeating guitar lines are uniquely Kinsella (I'm pretty sure I've used 'Kinsella-like' as an adjective). Sometimes, additional instrumentation can be a sophisticated way of saying burying great ideas under the weight of too many great ideas. But on New Leaves even his most produced arrangements still have room to breathe. For example, "Amnesia and Me" steers into a decidedly country/americana direction with it's slide guitars and rhythm and blues breakdown. Stronger strummed guitars, a deep bass section and a nice electronic pitter-patter mark the confident "A Trenchant Critique" while a swooning Andrew Bird-esque bowed violin make the track almost unbearably good.
Mike Kinsella, by his own admission, is prematurely cantankerous. New Leaves while promoting a newfound thematic foil of marriage and settling is still not without its slow burn of subdued wanderlust. Like John Steinbeck said, "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch...Nothing has worked." Or as Mike Kinsella says, "I always thought I would end up owning my own boat before a home."