Tim Kinsella

Tim Kinsella Sings the Songs of Marvin Tate by Leroy Bach

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The intricate perspective of endlessly progressive Chicago musician and wordsmith Tim Kinsella usually polarizes listeners. For as many who would dub Kinsella a misunderstood genius for his work with Joan of Arc, Cap'n Jazz, Make Believe, solo, or with any number of bands, just as many have pushed him into the category of unlistenable charlatan. This kind of "love it or hate it" reception is usually the sign of an artist who's actually making music and work of value, and in Kinsella's case it's inarguable that he's one who's never stopped challenging himself or his audiences. Tim Kinsella Sings the Songs of Marvin Tate by Leroy Bach is an especially strong piece of evidence toward this fact, and a complex one at that. The project came about when poet Marvin Tate set out on a series of collaborations with former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Leroy Bach, setting his often dark words to music. The songs were the product of Tate giving lyrics/poems and a loose melody for each to Bach, who fleshed them out with complete arrangements. Somewhere in the process, however, the two decided the project needed some kind of third party to act as narrator, and Kinsella was brought into the fold to sing lead on the songs, lending his distinct voice to story-songs of armless crossing guards, ugly domestic scenes, and helpless, hopeless love. Bach's spare arrangements make extra space for the gravity of Tate's lyrics, delivered with both empathy and agony by Kinsella. Vocalist/solo performer Angel Olsen also shows up on many tracks to provide a foil for Kinsella, adding her sweetly sung vocals to these scratchy, stressful poem-songs for an eerie atmosphere. Beginning with "Idolize," the tone is set for the album, with a lone piano juxtaposing its peppy, pop-friendly chord changes with unthinkably dark lyrics about betrayal, lies, and suicide. "Devonte's in a Coma" is similar, with Olsen and Kinsella in a singsong a capella duet about a battered, comatose grade-school child. The songs are often short, rushing by in a wash of voices as playful as they are vicious. Olsen takes lead on the ghostly "Sidetracked in Miami," a song almost woozy and bewitching enough to obscure its raw lyrical content. The album is a rough ride, despite its often lush arrangements and beautiful tones. Tate's lyrics, while not exactly relentless, never completely subside into anything less than unsettling territory. Kinsella's vocal interpretations, especially when joined by Olsen, can add to the grim, unresolved kind of feeling that permeates the album, and while it's not for the faint-hearted, the darkness is inarguably deliberate and moving, for better or worse.

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