Reviewed – Owen – The Avalanche

Rating – 5/5

It had been a good few years since I had last engaged with the work of Owen, however the release of singles ‘A New Muse’ and ‘On with the Show’ brought everything back to me.  I was taken back to when I first discovered the solo material of the infamous Mike Kinsella of emo legends American Football and Cap n Jazz. The delivery of his trademark humor and ‘bedroom style’ songwriting of raw emotion derived from his personal life and experiences. Listening through his tenth studio album The Avalanche was nothing short of an emotional journey and a true reminder of the legacy of Kinsella.  

The album starts with his first single of the album, ‘A New Muse.’ The opening chords provide the listener with a classic Owen styled chord progression we have heard from other albums. What follows is the crescendo of drums layered in the background, providing texture and depth to the track. What reals me in for the track is the opening line of ‘dear lord, let me be anything, but bored, or in love.’ This provides a hint and context of the theme of this album; further supported by the term ‘Muse’ referring to a source of artistic inspiration, usually a woman. The track is a steady build-up of tension, with new sounds added into the mix throughout the track. The vocals have been kept mellow with a similar lyrical structure throughout followed by echoing harmonies. From this opening track we can get a glimpse into the journey of Kinsella; a broken marriage or even a lack of inspiration. Either way, Kinsella has hooked me in. 

The second track, ‘Dead for days’ provides a dark twist musically and lyrically as opposed to ‘a new muse.’ An impactful story reflecting on past friendships and relationships. Dead for days tells the story of a dead police officer, with Mike reminisces that story thinking how it could be him. Dead for days is impactful and, in a sense, hard to listen to.  What Kinsella does well with this track and many others, is the level of calmness and contempt within his songwriting. With the level of emotion and ‘grey’ mood anchored by the string instruments that play tastefully in the background. The fact he can sing about suicide and overdose with the tambre being so subtle and soft. An admirable trait, not hugely seen in modern emo music. 

The ‘grey’ and the heavy mood is lifted when ‘On with the show’ comes on next. The upbeat chord progression provides and change of tempo and tone for the album. With a full band set up, the track kicks in with an Owen trademark line; ‘this is the role I was born to fake. A crucified villain, middle-aged.’ This track paints a picture of Kinsella’s interpretation of his flaws, however displaying no interest to change.  The chorus line of ‘On with the show’ and ‘I’ve got a reputation, of fucking up, to uphold’ supports this. The chorus is bellowed by Kinsella, with a higher-pitched but clean tone providing the ‘uplifting’ feeling from the track. This was favorited single over ‘A new Muse,’ I enjoyed the various sounds and layers within the track and the powerful delivery by Kinsella. 

The mood of the album is brought back down with the next track. ‘Contours’ is a toned-down track compared to ‘On with the Show.’ This track is anything but upbeat, a mellow tone with an unexpected grand chorus. ‘Counters’ is a piece of music that speaks from pain, much like the themes we have previously seen, this track delves into the collapse of a marriage, his therapy, and self-reflection. Within this track, we can feel the pain of Kinsella. He maturely discusses his weaknesses and requests to be with his loved one, one last night; ‘can I call you to mine for one more night?’ 

The pain is carried through to the heart-crushing, ‘I should have known.’ This track echoes the lo-fi bedroom balladry that defined early Owen. The new refined tracks of The Avalanche are compelling and have been executed brilliantly. However, it was refreshing hearing the original style of Owen I have been drawn to in the past; it was nostalgic and a reminder of the diversity of Owen. 

The album flows elegantly to ‘Mom and Dead.’ An ethereal introduction with soothing guitars with soft ambiance. The opening lyric gracefully tells you the story of a kiss ‘It was an ordinary kiss’ followed by a change of mood to the song flowing straight after ‘before the avalanche hits’ This song touches on the themes of losing a loved one; much like a broken marriage, it’s a tragedy that’s being reflected on. The chorus is haunting, further enhanced by the guest vocals of KC Dalager from Now, Now. The song is carried by layers of glimmering pedal steel and understated music box piano tones. With its delicate instrumentals and bleak lines such as, ‘wake up, I had a dream you died’ this track paints itself as the most heart wrenching and impactful songs on the album.  

No review is complete without the acknowledgment that all art is under critique. ‘Headphoned’ graceful flows after the dramatic ending of ‘Mom and Dead.’ A calm acoustic piece with playful sounds delicately in the background and light taps and build-ups of drums. The song paints a picture of family life and a home, with Kinsella singing about hiding and seek. The song theme is appropriate for the album and binds well with the album narrative. However, I struggled to resonate with song compared to the others. ‘Mom and Dead’ was so heavy and carried so much emotional delivery, the calmness of this track felt out of place and ineffective. 

The album carries on with its calm tone with ‘wanting and willing,’ however, what’s changed is the track theme.  This track displays Owen’s charisma and charm, touching on that ‘Owen style humor’ that was missing. A telling the story (or fantasy) of two lovers spending their time together. I found this track confusing, with the chorus, ‘I don’t see a ring but wanting and willing are different thing’ I was given with two options; reminiscing of past love or fantasying new love? The track is light, charismatic, and demonstrates a variety of vocal styles of Kinsella, particularly his well-executed falsetto on the line ‘but I’m begging you to bet on this losing horse.’ When listening to this album, it’s easy to pick up the pain and self-doubt of Kinsella. 

The album finishes on ‘I go, Ego’ a peaceful finisher for the album. The tension of the track is built throughout, with tense punchy and short lines at the beginning of the track accompanied by the beautiful voice of KC Dalager. The song is simply structured and holds nothing compelling musically or lyrically. What makes this song well crafted is how well it finishes the album and the way the track ends. The track unleashes alluring trumpets and violins, crafting a ballad-like composition to leave the listener time to reflect on the whole album.  The Avalanche has been perfectly crafted with Kinsella going deeper than ever before. The album tells a story of an unraveling marriage and dramatic endings. This is an album that has been brought to the world through pain trauma; the album opens up Kinsella and spills his stories and emotions to the listener. With every difficult chapter in someone’s life comes reflection, this album is a reflection of a difficult time in someone’s life and this piece of art is the outlet.

Review by Sam Hennerly

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