REVIEW: Owen – “Lost”
by Chad Jewett
Over the course of nine albums, Owen (aka Mike Kinsella) has slowly traced a process of maturation that has taken him (or the character he has so artfully crafted as “Owen”) from the witching hour growing pains of post-adolescence to late-20s questions about growing up and settling down, to the sweetly melancholy moods explored on 2013’s excellent L’Ami Du Peuple. On that album, Kinsella simultaneously relished the quiet joys of family life while also recalling his own youth with a sort of whimsical sadness, as on songs like “I Got High”, where the singer reckoned with the gaps that formed between himself and past people and places. Was growing older an adventure, or a slow eclipse? The song, to its poignant credit, refused to answer. It’s a unique perspective – few songwriters have Kinsella’s eye for the sort of memories that catch in our throat – and one that is explored movingly on “Lost”, the first single from Owen’s forthcoming album, The King of Whys.
Unfolding like an inverted version of “Good Friends, Bad Habits”, wherein a newly matured young man worried aloud about loved ones still struggling to make changes, “Lost” seems to root for the outsiders and underdogs: “Stay poor and die trying / Take the drugs I didn’t take”. Above a characteristically gorgeous palette of acoustic guitars and careful studio craft (this time helmed by Bon Iver contributor S. Carey) Kinsella goes on to list things he was afraid to do, things he knows better than to try, faults he seems quietly grateful to have outgrown, foibles he has the perspective to let go of. As is so often the case with Owen’s recent run of albums (say, from New Leaves on), there’s a bittersweet mixture of sadness and affection here, as when Kinsella asks of his subject: “Truth or dare: are you on fire? / And if so, how do you know? / And if not, do you burn to be? / Cuz I do, when I see you / But you can’t see me”. And later: “The last of my feral friends / I know you’re lonely / But don’t waste your breath telling me / That you want what I have / No one believes you.” At times it’s tough to tell if Kinsella is finding abstract beauty in the chaos of being young and at sea or is haunted by his own quiet affection for those days, or if, as on “Good Friends, Bad Habits”, he is struggling to reckon with those he can no longer reach. It’s what makes his work so moving – you’re never quiet sure if Kinsella feels empathy or envy for the ghosts that populate these songs. Perhaps it’s both.