New Leaves


Polyvinyl Records, 2009

REVIEW BY: Giselle Nguyen


Mike Kinsella’s fifth album under the solo moniker Owen sees him in a time of change. He’s worked on this record for the last two years, in which time he’s also become a husband and welcomed his first child. It’s easy, then, to understand why the album is called New Leaves – after all, isn’t the old saying “to turn over a new leaf” indicative of changes in heart and direction?

It’s been a good ten years since the days of Kinsella’s former band American Football, and yet each album he’s released since then just seems like a natural progression as he continues to peddle his emotional verse, using those same delicious licks to push it along. But my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 New Leaves isn’t entirely the optimistic venture it might appear to be; while Kinsella is still meandering along a similar acoustic-rock path, his lyrics are embalmed in a sober bitterness. The title track opens the album as Kinsella sings about a friend who continually “spends the fall turning over new leaves” while simultaneously neglecting the needs of loved ones and falling deeper into confusion and a sense of lostness. While the music itself doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t been done before, it’s the earnestness in the delivery and confessional poetry that makes Kinsella such a notable artist – think of the way you felt when you listened to Dashboard Confessional as an early teen, and that’s the kind of honesty that shines from New Leaves (though admittedly with quite a bit less weepy angst). That comparison is not to say that his lyrics don’t have originality, though: “literary romantics, they fuck like Wilde and they’ll die like Hemingway,” he whispers on “Good Friends, Bad Habits.” What a line.

The gently rolling music and his shy-acoustic-guitar-wielding-white-boy voice may deceive you into thinking that this is hopeful music about believing, but in the case of a lot of these songs, it’s just the opposite. But it moves fast enough to keep you interested where it could so easily fall into the trap of gratuitous self-pity.

New Leaves is classic Owen in that it mixes despair and the overarching feeling of loneliness with a gorgeous glimmer of hope in the form of soothing, relaxing melody and the uncertain, but ever-present, promise of new beginnings. Kinsella is one of indie rock’s more underrated current performers. He sings songs that are so easily relatable to the average person, and that perfect sense of normalcy is exactly what makes them so special.

Rating: B

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