Owen – Near and Far, Vol. 1 Split EP

Near and Far, Vol. 1 Split EP

Split EPs are fun, if a bit infuriating at times. You get just a tease of an artist, which is sometimes enough but usually leaves you wanting for more. Still, it’s a good way to get a dose of music from new artists, and that’s what Backroad Records is hoping for. Their theme of presenting a musician from their home state of Indiana (the near) and somewhere else (the far) is a bit tenuous, but as good as any other, I suppose.
These two projects fit together surprisingly well, as both center around a single singer/songwriter with an emphasis on a quiet, folk-inspired lo-fi sound. The atrociously named The Rutabega is Josh Hensley from South Bend, Indiana, and his music has a nice, mellow lo-fi feel, with soft moodiness and strong vocals. Owen is the solo project of Mike Kinsella (from Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Joan of Arc, etc.). Using some sweet finger-picking and his own strong vocals, he presents three excellent songs as well.
The best Rutabega song is definitely the first, “Florescent Funeral.” A nice layering of vocals over soft, repetitive guitar and a deep bass feel gives the song a kind of dark moodiness. The vocals pick up on that, as Hensley sings, “I remember when great-grandma died / You tried to make me touch her face.” “Serotonin” is more along the lines of Owen’s work, being simply acoustic guitars and vocals with some light percussion. Hensley’s vocals shine their brightest on this song. “Buckets Full of Beautiful Things” uses drumming more intrinsically, but the lo-fi nature of the song keeps it from being a stand-out track.
Owen starts off with a new, stripped-down version of “Never Meant,” which also appeared on the American Football full-length. More quiet, it still has more depth than his usual solo songs. I’ve always been impressed by Kinsella’s vocals, which have a unique flair in emphasizing certain words and then often receding to a whisper. That’s especially evident on “Poor Souls,” as Kinsella sings lines like “Swear to God, I’ll die” with more emphasis. The song uses some light accompaniment like harmonica faintly heard behind the vocals and guitar. He closes with “May First Brings Lots of Laughs,” the quietest and faintest song here. The guitar is sparse, the vocals whispered, giving the whole song a quiet, desperate feel.
I’ve enjoyed Mike Kinsella’s music in its various forms for years, and his songs here as Owen do not disappoint. Clearly, Owen is the more well-known musician on the split, and his presence will expose many new people to the unfortunately named The Rutabega. Despite his horrendous project name, Josh Hensley has a lot of talent in his own lo-fi acoustic style, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.