Last month Mike Kinsella announced the release of The King of Whys, the upcoming eighth studio LP by his solo-folk project Owen. The King of Whys is a collaboration with Bon Iver’s S. Carey, who both performs on and produced the album and somehow convinced Kinsella to record for the first time ever outside the greater Chicago area. Yet the lead single “Lost” didn’t reveal any drastic aesthetic change, proving to be a quintessential sad-sack Owen song that opened with the line, “Stay poor and die trying,” and didn’t get any more optimistic from there. But while Carey didn’t vastly shift Owen’s plaintive sonic palette, you can sense his presence in the stirring string section that embeds Kinsella’s words with an oceanic gravity.
Kinsella’s follow-up single “Settled Down” maintains this richer atmosphere but toughens it up with crashing drums and bursts of precisely executed distortion. Flirting with moody keyboards and supple guitar leads, the song at times comes close to resembling American Football. Yet Kinsella undertakes so many stylistic turns over the track’s runtime that it also nearly crosses over into territory befitting Sufjan Stevens or Cymbals Eat Guitars. “Settled Down” conjures up comparisons to a lot of lush and evocative music, but it remains distinctly the product of Kinsella’s melancholy momentum. And at the 2:16 mark when that Carrie & Lowell-style fingerpicking ramps up alongside those delicately rising harmonies, and then, for just a moment, blares a single and resounding saxophone note — well it’s impossible to sit still. “It feels like the Earth moves when I do,” Kinsella sings, and I swear I feel it too. Listen below.
The King of Whys is out 7/20 on Polyvinyl.