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The King of Whys

by Owen

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1.
Empty Bottle 04:27
Empty Bottle Crowded goth show What is it that you want to do? Whatever it is, I do too I’ll let you decide if this is hello or goodbye Or if this isn’t anything If I’m not really anyone I’m not coming down if you’re not coming down In my dreams I’m asleep You’re in the bed We speak French and the floor is made of glass Empty Bottle Reflective window What is it that you hope to see? Look beyond yourself, you will find me I’m not coming down if you’re not coming down In my dreams I’m asleep You’re the bed and Isn’t Anything never ends You’ve got a lot of nerves Will you please touch mine with yours? Every stolen bike longed for in the city tonight is the story of our life
2.
You were right, Babe None of this means anything There’s so much more for us to be than seen Somehow all of the sudden I find myself struggling Two lives are too much and not enough I concede this childish need for attention is the desperate act of a disappearing man You’d better catch him while you can What a mess Past and present stitched together, perilously tethered I ain’t fooling anyone (least of all me) I’m calling in sick forever and I’m calling bullshit on everyone This is a test and I’m failing You were right, Babe I love how you know me I know how you love me I know how you long for this song to end
3.
Settled Down 03:17
I’m so settled down that it feels like the Earth moves if I do So, still I’ll sit for you until I can’t not move Did the bed shake? The house just fell down The city’s in ruins Did you feel that too? I’m not mad, I’m done That last earthquake was a knockout punch I’m bored again Torn between giving in and getting lost for good The silence sits in my throat What time is it? The bed shook The house just fell down The city’s in ruins They’re all dead or buried I’m sorry, but I had to move
4.
I meant what I said You’re too young to love me like you do As those letters you penned - so heartfelt, so reverent - only proved Lovers come and go The good ones always know how they’re getting home I meant what I said You’re too sharp to get cut up by me Lovers come and go The good ones always know the difference between being casual or a casualty Lovers come and go The good ones are incapable of faking it Stop faking it - I know that you can’t sing
5.
Tourniquet 04:14
If you give me this battle, I’ll give you the war I’m tired of being someone’s I’m tired of keeping score This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet If you give me this battle I’ll pretend like there isn’t a lifetime of bitterness inside of me An ugliness I hide from you Give me that goddamn bottle and then leave me alone This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet I fear that I might lose a limb Or a wife Or whatever’s left inside This tourniquet hasn’t stopped the bleeding yet I fear that I might bleed out
6.
Father had a burning soul "Go on…" Drank himself into a hole with no way out He wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a bad man Father had a burning soul "Go on…" Could’ve, should’ve loved them all one by one He wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a bad man In his defense, he never asked to be born He seemed content to see the world with his eyes closed Now I’ve got a burning soul What now? Both ends of my prayer candle are burned out In my defense, I was raised by a blind man on fire who was raised to lip-sync in his church choir So I’m not a saint and I’m not a singer
7.
Saltwater 02:54
Saltwater I heard you took it on the chin You’re as clever as you are alone Those books may console you but they won’t keep you warm Proof by contradiction is the only explanation for whatever this is Saltwater You taste like the places we’ve never been I know I seem so calm So serene Embalmed But inside I wish your insides were mine Let’s make a toast: May the end be the end of the world Now let’s get you warm...
8.
An Island 04:12
Shit got heavy like my eyelids on a highway that won’t end You got quiet like an island, so I left I headed out to sea A toothless shark An actor playing a part I can’t pretend to care like I did when the unknown was my second home Now we’re upside down, Love Gravity had a change of heart You fell for the hell of it and I fell for it all I’ve incisive intuition It’s a curse more than anything I’m always the first to know how everything ends Bullets in June A nice night for a knife fight between two boats drifting The Sun shines on you, Love You’re well-lit like a work of art and I’ve been exiled like the enemy Forever in the dark
9.
Is this how you say, “Mon coeur bat la chamade?" Which pills did I take? Were those bills ever paid? Sleep is a myth Believed but never witnessed by me The spider bites are back The eggs have finally hatched Sleep is a myth I believe exists but only for the opulent Don’t worry about the money We’ll get by or we won’t You look better hungry You wear your weary eyes well Now give me everything and then some Bring out what’s dead and dying in your troubled head Your lifeless body will awaken
10.
Lost 03:43 video
Stay poor and die trying Take the drugs I didn’t take Lay the whores I didn’t lay cause I was too afraid that I might like it Carry scissors with your teeth Bury your burdens underneath your lover’s skin Pack a bag and pick a fight Lead with your left and leave while your lies still breathe Wherever you arrive, pick another fight and leave the fucking bag behind You may be wondering where all this wandering leads You're lost but at least you’ve nowhere to be and no one to leave you Truth or dare - are you on fire? If so, how do you know? If not, do you burn to be? Cause I do when I see you but you can’t see me You may be wandering driveway to driveway drunk A ghost without a house to haunt The last of my feral friends, I know you’re lonely but don’t waste your breath telling me that you want what I have No one believes you

about

Owen – the acclaimed solo musical guise of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Mike Kinsella – has made an astonishing leap forward with The King of Whys, the first work in his two-decade-plus career to be made entirely outside of the greater Chicagoland area.

Produced by S. Carey over 18 days last winter at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, WI, the album is Owen’s most inspired and evocative thus far, interpolating a group dynamic into what has long been an intensely intimate sound.

Songs like “The Desperate Act” and “Sleep Is A Myth” remain spare but with a distinctly outward shift in scope, their open-armed sonic range a perfect foil to Kinsella’s evocative explorations of marriage, melancholia, and modern middle age.

Fraught with hurt and wry humor, The King of Whys is a portrait of a restless artist grappling with doubt and ghosts of the past but searching for meaning through candor, creativity, and an ardent need for emotional release.

“I think this record is totally romantic,” Kinsella says. “I told my wife, she wasn’t convinced. I said that this is how I get it all out of me. It leaves me more content to deal with reality.”

For more than two decades, Kinsella has been a central figure in Chicago’s indie rock universe, serving multiple roles in a string of bands whose influence continues to resonate across a span of genres and musical approaches. A founding member – with his brother Tim – of Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls, Kinsella’s own vision first manifested via American Football’s cathartic rock, but for most of the years since 2002, through Owen’s raw homespun offerings. Adopting the solo singer/songwriter persona freed Kinsella from a lifetime working in collectives, giving him complete control over every aspect of his creativity.

“I can say whatever I want as Owen,” he says. “I can express all the aspects of my personality – I can be crude or funny or sad or mean or whatever. It’s my personal thing.”

Owen’s lo-fi, largely acoustic bedroom recordings have evolved over eight albums and myriad EPs into a more orchestrated approach reflective of Kinsella’s growing strength as a songwriter.

A series of recent efforts inspired him to further broaden Owen’s reach -- from American Football’s well-received 2014 return to simply getting behind the kit in Chicago indie rock trio Their/They're/There – his first stint as a mere drummer in over a decade.

Still eager to push Owen’s hermetic parameters, Kinsella enlisted producer S. Carey – frequent collaborator of Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings and acclaimed solo artist in his own right – to helm his next album, the two like-minded artists having first met as Carey supported a handful of dates on American Football’s 2014 reunion tour.

Where Owen’s prior outings were almost entirely performed by Kinsella on his own, Carey brought in some of the Badger State’s finest players to add new flesh to his bare-boned songcraft. Kinsella, as usual, is up front on guitar, vocals, bass, drums, and bells, accompanied by Carey (keyboards, vocals, drums, bells) and such WI musicians as Zach Hansen, who also served as engineer on the record, violist Michael Noyce, pedal steel guitarist/keyboard player Ben Lester, and bassist Jeremy Botcher, all of whom share credits including Bon Iver, S. Carey, and The Tallest Man On Earth. Together the combo crafts an expansive but still grounded backdrop for Kinsella’s candid confessionals.

Kinsella has made more than a fair share of records – “I sure have,” he says – so the remarkable fact that this is his first album in a 15-year span releasing music as Owen recorded outside of Chicago and his own circle must have had significant impact.

“I joined my brother’s band in seventh grade,” he says, “and then kept playing in my brother’s bands for the next fifteen, twenty years. Even American Football, that was with an old high school buddy so it was still very comfortable. Taking me out of my comfort zone definitely led to something different.”

Leaving his scene behind offered an array of new possibilities but also opened up a very different emotional response. Though Kinsella was a fan and familiar with his collaborators’ work, he was still the newcomer to the gang, “a totally weird experience for a grown man.”

“They’re all really good friends,” he says. “They work together all the time, they have their own language, and then there’s me, going, here’s my songs. It felt like junior high, like I was the kid starting a new school in the middle of the year.”

The process itself was unlike previous Owen recordings in that Kinsella was for the first time able to let go of various instrumentation, allowing his fellow musicians to carry some of the weight only he previously bore.

The sheer songcraft on The King of Whys more than warrants the expanded production, Kinsella dissecting his own foibles and familial relationships with caustic wit and a mordant sense of self-awareness. “Lovers Come And Go” and the elegiac “Saltwater” see the songwriter processing his experiences as he approaches the big four-oh, using his art to learn how to be a better father and husband.

“I worry that anyone under twenty five isn’t going to care about how tired he is from chasing his kids all day,” Kinsella says, “but whatever.”

The King of Whys has far more going on than the self-deprecating Kinsella suggests, touching on universals like addiction with “Empty Bottle,” the place where so many long dark nights of the soul begin, whether it’s the venerable Chicago club or a just-finished fifth. Songs like “A Burning Soul” – a scathing looks at how his dad’s alcoholism has affected his own young family – and the closing “Lost” are haunting and poignant, alighting upon such common themes as love and loss, rebirth and redemption.

“It’s dark on the surface but those are real feelings,” Kinsella says. “For a while I was pretty self conscious about my songwriting. There are Internet memes about how sad I am. I just feel there are enough love songs playing at grocery stores – I can write about darker stuff.”

An intimate singer/songwriter album recorded under contemporary circumstances, The King of Whys utilizes progressive techniques, song structures, and time signatures, but Owen’s introspective humanity is timeless. Having made music for a very long time, Mike Kinsella continues to push himself towards transcendence with honesty, artistic ambition, and a sense of real circumstance.

credits

released July 29, 2016

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Owen Chicago, Illinois

Mike Kinsella. From Chicago, IL.

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