Rating:For a guy who consistently sounds low-key, Mike Kinsella is quite busy. Over the course of his career, he has been an instrumental part of emo legends American Football and Cap’n Jazz, his flatly emotive tones helping to define the genre. A complete list of his releases is staggering, now spanning three decades and multiple record labels. But as with any other immensely productive artist, there’s bound to be some entries in the list that are…well, if not bad, per se, simply unnecessary.
Other People’s Songs fits nicely into that category. Recorded under his Owen moniker (which is essentially multi-instrumentalist Kinsella by himself with some helpful friends), it’s the kind of album that does not disappoint in any meaningful way, but neither does it bring much to the table. At least he chose a fittingly humble title; it is indeed an album of other people’s songs, being eight cover tracks filtered through his lo-fi production. The entire thing clocks in at just under 30 minutes, which could be taken to barely qualify as an album itself.
Here’s the thing: Other People’s Songs is utterly competent without being all that interesting. Kinsella reworks a collection of largely punk songs by the likes of Against Me! And Lungfish as staid, somewhat dry acoustic numbers. The craggy electric guitar of opener “Descender” by Lungfish and the nearly upbeat rhythms of the Promise Ring’s “Forget Me” are both transformed by the same rhythm and Kinsella’s guitar. There are occasional flourishes of piano, as on “Judas” (originally by Depeche Mode) and strings on “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart” by Against Me!, but far more often than not, the songs simply end up sounding pretty much the same.
That doesn’t mean the songs sound bad, though. In fact, Other People’s Songs is a perfectly enjoyable album, taken on its own merits. Kinsella’s vocal delivery is as on-point as it has ever been, and his gift for tasteful arrangement is in fine display. But by necessity, cover albums should have some reason to exist. The recent Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols had weirdness on its side, as does the just announced Bob Dylan-covers-Frank Sinatra album Shadows in the Night. But Other People’s Songs doesn’t have that. It sounds essentially like Kinsella took some songs that he admired and ran them through his own perspective, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does not make it a necessary thing, either. Other People’s Songs doesn’t do much to reveal new aspects to its tracks, but it doesn’t do anything to disgrace them either.