After he's played guitar for Joan of Arc, drummed for The Owls, sung for American Football, and appeared on critical projects with bands like Cap'n Jazz and Aloha, any new release bearing the name of Mike Kinsella comes loaded -- understandably -- with weighty expectation. How ironic, then, that Kinsella's absolute piece de resistance is a solo effort, and a minimalist acoustic album at that.
I do perceive is the third full-length released under the Owen banner -- the project in which Kinsella plays every instrument and is even responsible for choosing his album's cover art -- and within the first 30 seconds or so of the opening track, it's unquestionably clear that he has at last struck melodic gold. It's true that Kinsella's newest release is not much more than a singer-songwriter album with well-placed digital loops and self-deprecating lyricism, but just listen to any of the album's relationship-gone-sour songs, with titles like "Who Found Who's Hair in Who's Bed?" and see if the wonderfully simplistic guitar riffs -- not to mention Kinsella's agreeably earnest voice -- don't ring inside your subconscious for days to come.
But it turns out that Kinsella is something of a poet as well, and on I do perceive, the sound isn't everything. Certainly, it helps that Kinsella's album comes complete with the singer-songwriter's most consistent trademark: maudlin, woe-is-me lyrics from the tell-all school of songwriting. "I'm made up of instincts / None of which are too keen," he sighs on "Playing Possum for a Peek," a song about pretending to be asleep while his lover gets dressed in the morning. "But I get by on these high cheekbones, little faith in people or a higher being." And in "Note to Self," one of the album's prettiest, sleepiest songs, Kinsella even manages a brilliant riff on both the Misfits and his own stagnant career, all within the space of two verses.
If there's any justice at all in this world, I do perceive won't simply find itself lumped into a pile of end-of-the-year top-10 lists, but will actually be recognized for its beauty and brilliance with some sort of award, maybe from the Village Voice's well-regarded Pazz & Jop Critic's Poll. But I won't be holding my breath. I'll just be singing along and shaking my head as Kinsella's voice murmurs unhappily out of my speakers: "O, you poor thing / ... You're a long ways away from the place you thought you'd be by now ..."