Review Summary: Another quality release from Mike Kinsella. Bringing a fuller and more complex sound to the dance this time out, "At Home With" is one of his finest records to date.
Within the right circles, the Kinsella brothers are thought of extremely highly, while throughout there career there has been no mainstream success to speak of, having cut their teeth in the Punk of Cap’n Jazz, the Rock of Joan of Arc and more laid back acoustic stylings of American Football, they have carved themselves out quite a niche within the alternative scene. Running solo this time out is Mike under the name Owen. The music created is quite complex although not exactly earth shattering. Repeating drum loops provide a solid backdrop for the intricacies of the acoustic and occasionally electric guitars. The use of strings is equally prevalent throughout this record and creates an atmospheric feel not dissimilar to American Football. Vocally Kinsella sings with a kind of withdrawn emotion, never bursting into a furore but remaining passionate and emotive, as would be expected from a mainly acoustic album.
There is a dark feel to this album that might not be expected at first glance, especially lyrically where rather than embracing the sound of the music with a more positive feel, Kinsella has gone for almost completely the opposite. On the opening track “Bad Day” Kinsella sings, “Whatever it is / you think you are / you aren’t / a good friend / unique, well-read / good looking or smart / well now you know.” The words introspective and a very personal reflection on himself, which far from conflicting with the music as one might expect, provide a glaring yet refreshing contrast. “The Sad Waltzes of Pietro Crespi” is a big standout, combining social awareness with great storytelling, which is a challenging skill to master without coming off as extremely pretentious, even more impressive when the song title is taken into account. Lyrically the content tells of the author’s worries about whether his wife will continue to love him into old age, “I’m only asking because I don’t want to die, alone.” The blunt guitar picking remains clear behind a wall of strings; it is clear there is a big mid-west emo influence on this album, sounding rather like Mineral with more textures and less vigor. Another great song is “Bird in Hand,” a daunting seven minute anthem of sorts, containing atmosphere and staccato guitars in abundance.
This is probably Mike Kinsella’s least eclectic work to date, but for me, it is also his most enjoyable, honest and downright greatest. When compared with previous releases under the Owen moniker it seems far more produced and more a studio album. Where as “I Do Perceive” had a raw edge to it, “At Home With” has a fuller sound. The arrangements are more complex and less upbeat than before and the build up is slow burning rather than fast hitting. However this better suits the vocals and essentially makes a less accessible but generally more attractive album. For the long time fan maybe this won’t tread enough on new ground, there is progression but it’s still the same band. For most fans however, myself included, this will only leave you wanting more.