There are few personalities in indie rock that divide audiences so decisively as that of Tim Kinsella. He first cut his teeth with emo pioneers Cap’n Jazz, where his willfully off-key caterwauling somehow made the group’s energized power pop all the more engaging. Since the dissolution of Cap’n Jazz, Kinsella has been involved in a grocery list length of projects including Sky Corvair, Everyoned, Owls and Friend/Enemy. But the most prominent and prolific project, as well as the source of message board threads equally praising and deriding Kinsella, has been Joan of Arc.
With a constantly rotating roster Joan of Arc has released eight full-length albums (with two more in the works) and a fistful of EPs and singles. For the most part, Joan of Arc’s output has been highly ambitious (though pretentious could be thrown around with equal weight), but lacking in the outrageous, confrontational content that marks Tim Kinsella’s solo output. His first solo foray He Sang His Didn’t He Danced His Did infamously conjured (among other things) Kinsella squatting over a mirror with two fingers up his ass. His second and now out of print release Demands Feminist Critique had among its track listing “My Dick Is Small And I Smell Like Shit”. It’s not a surprise that between Joan Of Arc’s art posturing and Kinsella’s gutter level ramblings that he has earned his fair share of critics.
With Crucifix Swastika, it would seem that Kinsella without his Joan Of Arc cohorts is once again ready to wallow in the scatalogical and controversial. However, the biggest surprise upon spinning this six-track (barely 15-minute) EP is how tame it all is, both musically and lyrically. Aside from the downright stupid title, which not being referenced in the actual music reeks of a blatant attempt at courting controversy, Crucifix Swastika is an airy, almost whimsical dish of acoustic pop that remarkably fails to leave any discernable impression.
Reminiscent of Joan Of Arc’s more accessible and poppier early work, but nowhere near as inventive, Crucifix Swastika is a tepid combination of light acoustic guitar work and Kinsella’s reined in vocals. There is no glass-shattering screeching or off-center wailing here, just Kinsella’s lightly sung stream of consciousness lyrics. I would be encouraged to give this release a higher rating if the disc’s highlights didn’t feel so underdeveloped and dashed off. “Fondu Or Don’t” has Kinsella copping guitar moves from Nick Drake, with some nicely overdubbed vocals. But the song peters out well before hitting the two-minute mark. “Member Sexy Branes” suffers a similar fate, with Kinsella’s dexterous guitar playing not given the room to fully develop. Again, with the song barely clocking in at two minutes, the listener wonders of what could have been if the track had ample time to expand and grow. Crucifix Swastika closes with a recording of a call-in radio show in which a caller goes on a nonsensical rant about how the “cool kids” are all converting to Islam. Whether the inclusion of this sample is supposed to ironic or pointed doesn’t so much go over my head as completely evaporate into nothingness. Kinsella doesn’t lay any immediately tangible groundwork or context for this sample, and frankly, there isn’t much here to indicate that such an investment in time would even be rewarding.
Personally, I look forward to whatever Tim Kinsella does next, because there are times that Kinsella manages to wrangle his ambitions and pretentiousness into making a point. Even when he doesn’t, and especially with the Joan of Arc, there is a fascinating musical tapestry that in itself is worth exploring. However, when you strip the canvas away, as evidenced on Crucifix Swastika Kinsella isn’t so much unbearable as simply lost. Kinsella is an intelligent man with boundless energy as evidenced by his multitude of endeavors, but if he would reign in his scattershot thoughts into singular, cohesive and logical statements, his records would gain a potency that thus far his back catalogue suffers a lack of.