Owen – No Good For No One Now

No Good For No One Now

When Mike Kinsella, the less well-known Kinsella brother, broke up his band American Football and created his solo project under the name Owen, he also stripped away many of the things that made American Football so beautiful: namely the added instrumentation of other musicians, strings and keys especially. His songs under the Owen moniker have gone for a quieter, more subtle approach, relying for the most part on his unique yet soft croon of a voice and his impressive finger-picked acoustic guitar. Freed from the constraints of a supporting cast – for Kinsella has often toiled far from the spotlight on drums for bands like Joan of Arc, Cap’n Jazz, and the Owls – his songs got much more emotional, much more raw, very fitting for the stripped-down approach.
In between playing with those acts and touring in support of Rainer Maria and Kyle Fischer, Kinsella has kept busy writing Owen songs. Following up this year’s split EP with The Rutabaga comes the second Owen full-length, and it has fully realized Kinsella’s ability. For one thing, the instrumentation is more filled out, with drums and bass used regularly and added guitar parts – including some electric guitar – helping fill out the songs. The production is better as well, with some studio effects helping fill out Kinsella’s voice and guitar and adding to the melancholy mood of the release. But at the heart is still Kinsella’s bare and raw lyrics, his unique ability to draw out certain words in a way you’d never think of but that fits perfectly, and his stellar guitar playing.
The opener, “Nobody’s Watching,” first introduces you to Kinsella’s melancholy theme to this album, as he sings “You’re no good for no one now / with your selfish hands and your selfish tongue / your body’s here, but we both know who your mind’s on.” The light, complex guitar is brilliant, and the electric guitar, although not used heavily, is a fantastic addition. Electric guitar is at the fore on “Everyone Feels Like You,” and the song has a decidedly up-tempo Nick Drake feel. “Breath in deep end / I swear to God I’ll die if I go home alone tonight,” Kinsella sings on the starkly lovely “Pour Souls,” one of many times on the album the theme of loneliness flitters in. The short and bare “Good Deeds” is all finger-picked guitar, soft and lovely, and a bit more uplifting when Kinsella sings, “You’re smart, kind, and easy on my eyes.” The 10-minute “Take Care of Yourself” that closes the album doesn’t feel long at all, instead drifting beautifully on light keys, soft guitar, and a dreamy atmosphere unique to Kinsella’s solo work.
Despite the brilliance of every track on this release, Kinsella has crafted the year’s best song with “I’m Not Going Anywhere Tonight.” He could teach your indie favorites (Death Cab for Cutie and the like) a few things about writing a perfect mid-tempo pop song. There’s an amazing guitar hook here, but he doesn’t overuse it as bands are wont to do, instead teasing it early and giving just enough later on. The guitar work is brilliant, the use of keys and light drums just enough to compliment his fantastic guitar, and as always the focus remains on Kinsella’s lyrics and slightly breaking voice (especially as he sings the memorable line, “I’m not going anywhere tonight / I don’t want to, I don’t have to / It’s my right to be a fuckin’ baby sometimes”). This is a track worthy of your CD player’s repeat button, boys and girls, and it will surely adorn many a mix tape in the years to come.
Apparently not one to seek out the spotlight, Kinsella doesn’t even give himself credit in the packaging for No Good For No One Now. It’s as if he has created Owen to be a pseudonym for the more emotionally raw side of himself, and in letting out that side, he has created his best work to date. I hope he stands up to take credit for this amazing album, which contains my vote for the year’s best song. Too often albums released late in the year are biased on critics’ top-10 lists, but this one would deserve a spot regardless of its release date. I hope Kinsella stays busy recording songs, because even with these songs’ hefty lengths, No Good For No One Now leaves me wanting even more.