Eleven albums in and Mike Kinsella’s beloved solo project Owen is as sharp as ever with The Falls of Sioux, a display of middle-aged sardonic reveries soundtracked by a surprisingly adventurous iteration of indie folk.

Release date: April 26, 2024 | Polyvinyl Records | Official Website | Bandcamp | Instagram | Facebook

Mike Kinsella is the kind of artist to have fully tapped into a sense of self-awareness that allowed his musical outputs to consistently mature with grace – look no further than the progression between American Football‘s full-lengths. There’s no denying the often tiresome realizations that come when confronting your own aging body and mind, though that’s precisely the reason why Kinsella’s projects resonate so much, because there’s both wisdom and sheer carelessness to his point of view of life that is painfully honest. It’s real; it really is what it is. This is especially true on The Falls of Sioux, the eleventh record from his beloved solo project Owen, an album that unabashedly peers into the headspace of a self-perceived stranger that has nothing to offer nor to lose – for better or worse – supported by a honed songwriting that is as sharp and as candid as ever.

Upon first listen, The Falls of Sioux is a spacious piece of work with a feel for the cinematic – a collection of tracks that surrounds itself with sparse arrangement and detailed attention to the layers and ornamentations added to it, all the while retaining the intimacy synonymous with Owen‘s previous efforts. There’s also a subtle but definitely effective mix of genres that not only enhances the overall opulence characterized by these songs, but also complements the jagged lyrics found throughout.

With the chiming of tubular bells and whistles, foreboding string sections and drawling pedal steel guitar passages, Kinsella opens the first track “A Reckoning” with the following verse:

This suitcase still smells like the thrift store I saved it from
Big enough to hold all my shit and then some at twenty-one
But now in my 40s, I travel with much more dirty laundry.

The clear spaghetti Western influences on this song sets the tone for the rest of the record very well and acts as a great addition its gritty sound and themes of distance, brokenness, and simply going through the rough currents of life while carrying heavy burdens of past regrets. Speaking of regrets, “Virtue Misspent” brims with such a feeling for an otherwise upbeat track, whose playful drumming and strings-backed guitar leads guide you to one of the jangliest choruses I’ve heard in recent memory, only conveyed through the rather poignant lines, ‘I know it hurts now/But you’ll learn how to leave me‘.

This is because the way Kinsella juggles between juxtaposing sounds and emotions interchangeably with much cohesion is what makes The Falls of Sioux such a captivating listen. For instance, the tension that abounds in some of these songs is genuinely unsettling, “Mount Cleverest” being the most noteworthy for me. This percussion-heavy ode to not giving a fuck is led by an uncanny vocal performance that is heightened by raunchy guitar playing and dizzying samples. Conversely, immediately following it is what I consider to be the tenderest track off the record, “Qui Je Paisante” – a song that is musically more in tune with what Kinsella is known for but nevertheless stands out with its confessional accounts of a threatened marriage coupled with gentle keys composed in a way that invites reminiscence and nostalgia.

Lead single “Beaucoup” and “Cursed ID” further excel at showcasing this play on dynamics, and with a warmth only a project like Owen has been able to achieve. Spearheaded by a hauntingly memorable guitar riff, “Beaucoup” speaks of the intoxicating fixations that come with dependency amidst animated bass lines and a shimmering production not unlike those found within the shoegaze and dream pop realms. The latter song continues this very pattern though, with a scattered instrumentation that is gently mended by more tasteful string arrangements, containing one of the most genius, or baffling, line off the entire album (I’ll leave that up to you to find out and decide). It is the closing track “With You Without You”, however, that captures The Falls of Sioux‘s spirit and mindset to the fullest, as emo-adjacent guitar strumming, distorted percussion placements, and bright orchestrations all coalesce together for the record to leave with a sendoff tainted with sardonic acceptance and self-reconciliation, something that is perfectly stated on its chorus: ‘In my middle-age of discovery, every mistake’s a luxury…‘.

The Falls of Sioux confirms just how strong of a songwriter Mike Kinsella is. There’s substance to the record despite the blend of stylings and emotions expressed throughout it, and the care put into properly conveying them further reflects his dedication to continuing putting out fresh and engaging music, regardless of the years passed. With a project like Owen, you’d really expect nothing less, though; even more so considering the tremendous career Kinsella has built for himself as a musician to this point. Truly, have a go at it if you’re looking for something to shake the numbness off – nothing gets more real than this album.

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