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Critic's Choice

Owen

Nobody likes a whiner. And yet a whole troop of emo crybabies, from Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carraba to Bright Eyes' Connor Oberst, has whimpered its way into the spotlight over the past couple of years. Mike Kinsella, otherwise known as Owen (appearing Tuesday, November 26, at Club 156 in Boulder), is at least partly to blame. As drummer of the mid-'90s Illinois group Cap'n Jazz, Kinsella helped tame the wuss-rock frontier now populated by the likes of Modest Mouse and Jimmy Eat World. The members of Cap'n Jazz, though, were always deconstructionists at heart, using feedback, caterwauls and solipsistic wordplay to unravel their songs almost faster than they could stitch them together. As Cap'n Jazz mutated into Joan of Arc and then OWLS, the players softened and refined their sound, invoking the abstract groove of Tortoise and conceptual folk-blues as much as the cathartic abandon of Rites of Spring. Kinsella himself ventured even further into the realm of accessibility with his side project, American Football, a stunning exhibition of intricate, elegant guitar pop. With Owen, Kinsella has switched to guitar and vocals, boiling down American Football's melodic sensibility to its purest essence. His self-titled debut album shimmers with wispy synth backdrops, bashful strumming and his dandelion-puff voice, a plaintive sound stuck somewhere between Rainer Maria and an unplugged Coldplay. Songs with titles such as "Declaration of Incompetence," with lyrics like "I can't do anything/I can't do my hair right/Or have a good time/Or fall asleep with my girl," aren't going to significantly distance Kinsella from the current herd of bleating emo troubadours. His finesse and forbearance, though, already have.

 
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