by Philip Moss
Depending on the time of year that you visit Eau Claire, WI, you’re likely to experience one of two extremes. In the summer months, the temperatures soar, and you’ll find tourists canoeing on the Chippewa River Water Trail, or basking on the beaches at Half Moon Lake and Altoon County Park. But for seven months of the year, the temperature rarely creeps above zero. When Owen aka Mike Kinsella shacked up at Hive Studio, the city was engulfed with snow – the hideaway proving the ideal place for Kinsella to birth a record packed with emotional intensity.
Lead single, A New Muse, is our first glimpse through the studio window – and a clear indication as to why Kinsella has rekindled the relationship with producer and Bon Iver member, Sean Carey; its rolling acoustic introduction widens into a spacious palette of intricate drums and interleaving melodies. But where sad songs can often be matched by melancholic feel musically, here there is a hushed, unspoken vibrancy that wraps around Kinsella’s aching words.
The tone remains largely the same across The Avalanche – texturally it’s a beautiful sounding collection – bringing to mind Idlewild’s work – post The Remote Part. Granted, it’s not an immediate collection, but it is definitely all the better for it.The soft strings and gentle instrumental murmurings on Dead For Days again juxtapose Kinsella’s aching heart, as he recalls attempted sobriety, the failings of his marriage and hitting rock bottom. The Contours sees the songwriter once more facing loss, and finding it hard to get his thoughts out from his mind and onto the page. The fingerpicked I Should’ve Known finds the songwriter’s voice further forward backed by only plucked acoustic and piano.
Being the lead singer in a cult group like American Football can often mean that songwriters carry a huge weight on their backs when they release solo records. But when the writing is a good as this, Kinsella proves he has no such worries.
Secret Meeting score: 84
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