Sound — 9
For those with less than a favorable taste for the "emo" scene, Owen closes the god**** door on acts like Panic! At The Disco and brings the sound back to Sunny Day Real Estate and the like. Having performed in similar bands previously, Chicago native Mike Kinsella has kept the Midwest indie scene rolling along with Owen, his solo project, since the early 2000s. Though not as involved in the emo culture of the 2000s as the pop-punk-ish groups, Kinsella has certainly remained closer to the roots of the genre than bands selling millions of records for a decidedly mainstream sound. That means post-rock drums, a romance with the acoustic guitar, and lyricism best described as "painfully honest folk." Opening in a haze of soft guitars and aforementioned dreamy drums, 2013's "L'Ami Du Peuple" has much of what Owen usually brings to the table, but with a bit more meat than the last few releases. "I Got High" is bright in a distorted sort of way, with reverse effects placed delicately throughout over a distant choral tone. As soon as the electric guitar comes in (clean with plenty of reverb; what else?), the song shifts firmly into a melancholy tone. The rest of the record stays in the same mist, with "Love Is Not Enough" living up to its title amidst solemn piano and banjo implemented in the distance. "Blues to Black" and "Where Do I Begin?" feature some of the acoustic highlights, while "Bad Blood" and "A Fever" are the primary post-rock tracks. "Vivid Dreams" closes the record beautifully, with some of the most beautiful pluck work in Kinsella's career. Being well through a solo discography, Kinsella seems to have learned a lot in the last decade. "L'Ami Du Peuple" features some of the best in his discography, and is undoubtedly the most consistent of the bunch. The most layered work is done delicately and purposefully, but with a certain freedom many of the record's predecessors sorely lacked. Each measure is thoughtful and almost self-doubtful in how pensive it is (a characteristic the lyrics definitely boast). As usual, Owen brings the "emo" tag back to earth and parks safely next to "indie" in this beautifully crafted piece.
Lyrics — 7
Keeping with emo's real strength (if not used in the strongest of ways), Owen's lyrical work is earnest and vulnerable. Themes throughout "L'Ami Du Peuple" almost always relate back to self-doubt: even in "getting on with or without you," "I Got High" is doubtful over the outcome. There's even a certain sadness about "the pleasure I would take in renaming everything." The record weaves a timid spirit, but one of adventure. Even so, each challenge is approached with the honesty and observance of folk's masters, with "Coffin Companions" stating: "I suppose it is what is is/Nothing more, nothing less," and shrugging off the lucky while "the rest of us work." Unlike more pop-heavy representations of the emo camp, Owen approaches life and love with realism, humor, and often a certain humility. Even the dramatic lines Are carried with an understated dignity. While the writing occasionally gives way (Owen's obscenities come off as almost comical), it is generally solid and often gorgeous. Mike Kinsella's vocal work is pretty standard, with a very soft and very American voice tip-toeing its way through his writing. Again, the "angry" moments come off as a bit silly, particularly an F-bomb drop or two, to which Kinsella's particular disposition does not seem able to pay compliment. There is, perhaps, a resigned frustration at the beginning of "The Burial" when he nudges his query to "f**king say something." "Bad Blood" is also a neutral point, focused around the family dynamic, universally applying to race, honor, responsibilities, and so forth. Its concept is certainly nice, but the rumbling chorus is slightly less interesting than a track like "Who Cares?" On the other hand, it is a definite testament to Owen's strengths that a track as good as "Bad Blood" is one of the low points.
Overall Impression — 8
Opening in a sigh and ending with "Vivid Dreams"'s beautiful image of rebirth, "L'Ami Du Peuple" is Owen's magnum opus, if it yet has one. Kinsella has wonderfully (and, as it appears, carefully) carved tender music and lyrics, putting a well-deserved stake in the genre once again. Though there is the odd bit out less rounded than the rest, the record stands as a solid piece of work from the emo/indie genre, and serves as a reminder that, before "Arms Race," there was an effervescent landscape of musical majesty.