Mike Kinsella's softer side has come out as gentle, sadly poetic offerings from his Owen project, an acoustic foil for his more electrified work over the years in Cap'n Jazz, American Football, Owls, and other far less subdued bands. The stark honesty of Kinsella's lyrics and presentation in Owen is a huge part of what has made it one of his most popular projects. It often feels as though he's confessing the darker, more hidden parts of his life directly to the listener, and it's an incredibly personal feeling. It's odd, then, that Kinsella delivers the same sense of warmth and intimacy throughout Other People's Songs, a collection of eight cover tunes. The playlist reads like a young skater's mixtape from the late '90s, with acoustic renditions of songs by discordant sermon-sayers Lungfish, bummed-out college rockers the Blake Babies, and mellowed-out takes on pop-punkers such as All and the Smoking Popes. Translating youthful ebullience into somber beauty is no small task, but it turns out to be Owen's specialty throughout Other People's Songs. Kinsella's reedy vocals are joined at times by those of angelic singer Sarah Mitchell, resulting in a fairly straightforward reading of the Blake Babies' noisy "Girl in a Box" and a stunning duet on a complete reworking of Against Me!'s "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart." Originally a tightly wound emo pop blast with vocals shared by Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and Tegan Rain Quin from Tegan and Sara, Kinsella and Mitchell recast the tune as a gorgeous, relaxed picture of fingerpicked guitars and cozy string arrangements filling in for distorted guitars. Like the best of any collections of covers, Other People's Songs offers a completely unexpected perspective and at the same time makes us want to revisit the original versions and investigate the differences.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas