You always know what to expect from an Owen record but, at the same time, the final result is unpredictable: Mike Kinsella’s solo project has a few characteristic elements that have been a constant over the years (his acoustic guitar and the choice of lines that sound straightforward yet poetic), but the arrangements and the song construction keep evolving and make you always eager for more.
Ghost Town is no exception to the rule and from the first few seconds of the opening track the listener enters in a musical world populated by odd time signatures, interleaved melodies, singing violins, screaming guitars and comforting pianos, which contribute to create a family portrait painted with pastel colors, since this meticulously crafted atmosphere enhances the meaning of the songs: this is the first record Mike recorded after he had his first daughter and in the lyrics he conveyed both the immense love for his family and the tiredness and frustrations of everyday life as a husband and a father.
The ghost town he brings us in is both internal and external, and he makes it clear in the closing track, ‘Everyone’s Asleep In The House But Me’, a bare description of solitude in a silent city in the middle of the night; the ghosts that haunt him cannot be confronted to find some kind of closure, as it’s evident in ‘No Language’ (“You know I’m still pissed after a life tempestuous / Unless you can rise from the dead, I’ll die like this”). The experience of the listener might be totally different from the singer’s life, but the feelings he sings about and the images he evokes are universal, such as the depiction of never-ending surprise on a child’s face in Mother’s milk breath or the description of desire in ‘An Animal’ (“I’ve got twenty eyes on you and no place to put my hands”).
The variety in the lyrics is reflected in the arrangements: while being sonically consistent throughout the whole album, the differences between the songs are evident, as the approach varies from a conventional ballad as ‘O, Evelyn’ to moments more math-rock oriented, as ‘No Language’, or something like I believe, which starts as a sort of mantra just to be later hit by electrical guitar, which dominates the last minutes of the track.
While other projects Mike Kinsella is involved in have reached a wider audience, Owen has always been rather overlooked, and this record proves that his consolidated yet ever-changing style has reached new heights without losing its strength and originality.