The word “emo” generally evokes teenagers and those who can’t seem to get past teenagerdom. On his new album as Owen, Mike Kinsella continues to gracefully mature aspects of that largely adolescent genre. Throughout L’Ami du Peuple, he reflects on pain, admits confusion and frustration, but looks for the contrast.
As always, Kinsella comes across as well-read, thoughtful, and concerned, reflecting the veteran musician’s early Cap’n Jazz days as much as his new fatherhood. He’s nearing 40, and looking around the room to wonder how we all got there. “I can see some guys give up/ How good apples go bad,” he sighs on “Love Is Not Enough”. He’s clearly changing as well; the Chicago mainstay is incorporating electronics, strings, and other wrinkles into his once largely acoustic style.
His pains are still there, though, driving things. “You said something, but I’m not listening/ My whole world is caving in,” he bemoans on “Who Cares”, a curlicued guitar line branching in veins. The rough-edged stomper “Bad Blood” traces out an emotionally troubled family tree (“Poor grandfather so shy/ Couldn’t leave the house without a tall one”). The haunted “Blues to Black” watches time pass, a memory of a lost love (beautifully summed in the line “I watch myself move as if you were here”) fading from a piercing nightmare to a dulled memory.
But Kinsella seems to have found some answers, or at least some respite. “You’re better off holding your freak flag high,” he croons in “Bad Blood”. Time passes and he’s still alive, still feeling, less shattered. “How long have I been sleepin’?/ I’m a dad and my dad’s dead,” he calls out on closer “Vivid Dreams”. The song recalls crystalized moments of pain, of when “life became a lie.” But then, “I woke up/ I’m so glad I found you.” A lilting piano line drifts into the acoustic guitar bubble, lifting things out of their somnambulance. L’Ami du Peuple, or “friend of the people,” does the job its title promises: a man of sensitive depth and veteran pain offering light at the end of the tunnel.
Essential Tracks: “Love Is Not Enough”, “Blues to Black”