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New Leaves Tom Milway , November 3rd, 2009 06:53

Early adulthood is full of worries, anxiety and trepidation over the future. This is normally disguised in drinking, shagging and puking. Some never grow out of it and instead become aging hipsters stumbling out of dive bars scaring off 20-something girls with their receding hairlines, grey sideburns and beer stained out of fashion threads. For those that do manage to overcome this and struggle into adulthood, it is often due to the influence of someone else: a partner. For Chicago's Mike Kinsella (also known purely as 'Owen') this is most definitely the case. "She has saved me from the questions in my life that have plagued me, Now I know who I am... a tongue-biting one-woman man" he cries on 'Amnesia and Me'. As he began writing New Leaves, his fifth solo album, Kinsella (also of American Football, Cap'n Jazz and Joan of Arc) got hitched and became a father. Long time fans of Kinsella's Owen project have spent the past eight years treasuring his wickedly poetic and self-depreciating laments of lost love and failed social encounters set to complex acoustic guitar riffs and ever-expanding arrangements. The impact of these recent life-changing events is evident throughout this long awaited album (three years in the making), and represent musical and lyrical development into a revelation that maturing and finding satisfaction is an eventual possibility in life. Even for Mike Kinsella.

New Leaves is a wife-friendly record. What we audibly hear throughout is a man letting go of his insecurities and worries about commitment, and wryly painting the bleak lives of those still trapped in that old cycle of young adulthood (covered specifically on the album opener and title track). But it isn't quite all fairy tales filled with happy endings, family portraits and Sunday soccer games just yet. Kinsella returns to the subject of touring and being away from home on 'Never Been Born' this time offering "These old bones, don't feel so old, when I'm home with you. When I'm not with you, I'm getting drunk with college kids, learning lessons that didn't stick, telling lies to sound interesting." It's clear that Kinsella feels uncomfortable with this period of transition, possibly anxious over what he has found himself becoming. But ever the dramatist he finishes with: It's a young man's game, and about time I quit". He even continues full pelt towards the departure exit on closer 'Curtain Call' in the very same fashion he closed 2006's At Home With Owen when he threatened "One of these days, I'll give up and give in to the man."

When not reflecting on suburban bliss, the trademark Owen of old - complete with biting wit - still makes a strong showing. Odd demo tracks that have been dragging their heels for a couple of years are finally committed to final versions and happen to be some of the strongest - lyrically and musically - on the record. The wicked 'Ugly on the Inside' ("The makeup that you use to catch some eyes, And hide your imperfections, Does little to conceal, An ego that's been bruised so many times… Honestly I don't care, How you do or don't your hair") - is a classy number that displays many of Kinsella's best features in one. The literary enthusiast in Kinsella spills his observational guts onto the masterful 'Good Friends, Bad Habits' complete with subtle electronics and interesting percussion; "I've good friends with bad habits, they fuck like Wilde, and they'll die like Hemingway" he sings.

The real news is that in the three years since his last release, little Mike has grown into big daddy Mike and writes for his peers on New Leaves. Interestingly 'Amnesia and Me', which demonstrates not only the most lyrical maturity, but also shows the most musical development; set to a classic country shuffle the track features twanging Telecaster lead and strings cascading like butterflies floating above tall grass in a sunny summer field. This up-tempo illumination that shines through this ditty is something we haven't previously heard from Owen. Nor have we heard the breezy layering or production values of 'Brown Hair in a Birds Nest' in such a way. As he ends with "We're sitting in our tree, F-O-R-G-E-T-T-I-N-G everything we once knew" this turns out to be, possibly, the first happy ending we've ever heard from our intrepid observer. For those who've already found that someone, this album may ring true. For those still looking, still following the downward spiral, this album will sit like a sobering two fingers pressed firmly against the back of the throat. You'll probably want to stab Kinsella. Kinsella is probably laughing at you right now.