Owen: Ghost Town

Owen's latest (and quite likely last) album continues in the same vein as previous efforts, which is still pretty good.


Ghost Town

Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2011-11-08
UK Release Date: 2011-11-07

Mike Kinsella, better known to you as Owen, has had quite the fruitful music career. A one-man-band, Owen has a style reminiscent of a rowdy Iron & Wine, which is still quite maudlin and mellow. Written on the eve of the birth of his daughter, and thus forcing Kinsella to reflect on the tumultuous relationship he had with his own father, Ghost Town is slightly more elevated in atmosphere and instrumentation than earlier efforts, but is similar in vein to 2009’s New Leaves.

The album opener “Too Many Moons” is a nice acoustic number detailing the turmoil that this seemingly happy new father and spouse/partner suffer through. Kinsella sings about raising and expelling the inner demons that keep him from being capable of contentment. He sings: “I'm not coming home until these demons get bored / In mirrored eyes I see kerosene / and you've got the matches.” It’s a haunting little tune, accented nicely by a surprisingly somber false end. The track’s only drawback is the occasional emotionlessness of Kinsella’s voice, which butchers the French language. He rounds out his intonation in such a way that it sounds stiff and unfeeling, which is confusing given the starkness of his introspective lyrics.

This isn’t always the case. There are times when his line delivery conveys emotion well, but there are other times when such emotional portrayal falls flat. On “No Place Like Home”, he sings:

There's no place like home for collecting burdens / and conjuring ghosts that don't know they're dead / He insists that he's just sick and I don't have the heart / to tell him any different / It's the way it's been and the way it will be until we leave / We don't need a mirror / We don't need those pictures on the wall / We don't need to see ourselves as we are now.

The instrumentation pulsates, indicating a degree of urgency in the subject matter, but Kinsella’s delivery is unflinching and unaffected. It’s a jarring contrast that doesn’t completely work, even though, at this point in his career, most fans are probably used to his occasionally flat vocal delivery. To newer fans, this may require some time to get used to. His voice isn't a massive deterrent to enjoying his music, but it drags the album down slightly. To an ear with a sensitivity towards pitch, Kinsella’s singing could potentially grate.

Ghost Town continues to trail on, never picking up tempo and never offering more than one or two musical surprises, like Kinsella’s expletive on “No Place Like Home” -- “Fuck You and your front lawn / I’d rather die with my front hands tied” -- or the scratchy ending to the album closer “Everyone’s Asleep in the House But Me”. Ghost Town’s maudlin tone is haunting in quite a relaxing manner, reminiscent of supernatural horror movies that progress with a slow burn. However, unlike one of those films, Ghost Town never culminates in some grandiose conclusion. Instead, it opts to sustain the aimless wandering that permeates throughout. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be a little anti-climactic to those craving some kind of closure to the narrative Kinsella has set up.

Overall, Owen’s Ghost Town plays like a well-crafted folk/pop atmospheric album, reminiscent of artists who do maudlin atmosphere better, such as Mark Kozelek, or Iron & Wine. Unlike with Kozelek's music, Ghost Town succeeds through Kinsella’s astute and easily discernible lyrics and haunting narrative-like insight. One need only get pass the occasional MOR instrumentation to delve into the poetic lyricism of the album and truly enjoy the subtle beauty of this album, a beauty that may sometimes be a fluke.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.