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How Mike Kinsella's Work Defined (and Continues to Redefine) Emo


Mike Kinsella has reincarnated himself yet again, and you have every reason to be excited. Kinsella, along with brother Tim and cousin Nate, helped to usher in the emo movement of the Midwest, setting the underpinnings for the genre with Chicago-based Owls, Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc and American Football.

While he's been incredibly busy over the past five years with Owen, Kinsella's pseudonymous acoustic folk act, he's back behind the drums for Their / They're / There latest EP, Analog Weekend, along with Into It. Over It.'s Evan Weiss and Loose Lips Sink Ships' Matthew Frank.

While Their / They're / There has all the sonic hallmarks of the supergroup's predecessors, it's as good a time as any to take a look at Kinsella's catalog. Often overlooked in the massive, vague indie scope as someone whose body of work rivals that of Ryan Adams, Kinsella's vein of literary description and technical approach to all instrumentation is hardly as honored as it should be.

Joan of Arc plays a significant role in Kinsella's catalog--he's contributed to nine of the band's 22 albums--but it's his work in the long-defunct American Football and as Owen that's worth shining a light on. He's a jack of all trades, manning the drums for Their / They're / Their, but American Football was some of the first full-fleshed work of Kinsella's we were afforded.

There's something big and beautiful to American Football, highly reflective and apathetic. Whereas emo was later affixed to bands like Hawthorne Heights and Dashboard Confessional, American Football's one and only release held enough self-administered grief to inspire an army's worth of restless listeners.

 

But here the instrumentation truly shines, whether it's the marching band snares and layered, mellifluous guitars on EP cut "Five Silent Miles" or that building guitar line over stuttering drums that opens up into the swirling chorus of "Never Meant." Looking at the complication of later songs like Owen's "Bad News," it's easy to see Kinsella's proficient bent when placed in context.

Yet it's with Owen that Kinsella's artistry seems to be fully realized. Owen's dynamic ranges from the stripped-down narrative of "In The Morning Before Work," told through beautifully stark observations of life's familiarities, to the lush, dense "Bad News." The latter is a song best digested in a dark room, headphones on, cranked loud to discern the wealth of layering within it.

There's that cooed feminine backline, the explosion of plucked strings a little over halfway through the track and those slicing drums that ride over the entire thing. Its greatest appeal, however, is its heart-aching theme of checking a friend's ego with brutal honesty, regardless of the cost. Juxtaposed against other "emo" fare and in the context of Kinsella's work, it's more honest than anything we saw from the later years of the oft-mislabeled genre.

Though he's behind the skins for Their / They're / There now, Kinsella's significant contributions and archetypical sensibilities for emo are sure to leave their mark on the band, even if it is just his intricate, jazz-influenced drumming that we're hearing on Analog Weekend, playing foil to the heart-on-sleeve brilliance of Weiss' lyrics. Emo's finally being redefined after too many tired Hot Topic references and bad hairstyles, and Kinsella and company are just the guys to do it.

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