Mike Kinsella’s work over the years with his various musical endeavors has been nothing short of foundational, from early days with Cap’n Jazz right up until recently with American Football’s unforeseen and excellent second act. Even with his long list of contributions to course-setting bands, Kinsella never reveals more of his internal world than he does with the softly drawn songs of his long-running solo project Owen. With new album The Avalanche, he delivers a set of Owen songs that are the most straightforward and unguarded the project has ever been.
To record The Avalanche, Kinsella reunited with producer Sean Carey (Bon Iver, Peter Gabriel) and engineer Zach Hanson (The Tallest Man On Earth, Waxahatchee) and decamped to snow-covered Hive Studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, just far enough away from the routines and distractions of daily life to really focus on the process. Echoes of the lo-fi bedroom balladry that defined early Owen come through on the heart-crushing “I Should Have Known,” familiar open-tuned acoustic guitars and weary vocals supported by glowing string arrangements. “On With The Show” is bounding and upbeat, with a jangly instrumental standing in stark contrast to lyrics about crushing failure. KC Dalager from Now, Now contributes guest vocals to several songs, most notably the glacially paced album centerpiece “Mom and Dead.”
Easily the most intense Owen album, The Avalanche is also the most beautifully crafted. Kinsella goes deeper than ever before, with self-reflection so painfully blunt it’s sometimes difficult to look at head on. It’s a guided walk through one of life’s more difficult chapters, resulting in nine of the best Owen songs ever penned and an album that’s as heartbreaking as it is magnificent.