Since the early 90s, a certain sect of music lovers have been trying to figure out just where the hell Tim Kinsella has been going with his musical endeavors. All the while, Kinsella has happily confounded them all, reveling in his own weirdness and making undeniable stabs of pretense. People either love everything he does with reckless abandon or hate is so badly that it makes them want to stab themselves in the ears just thinking about his crooning, pre-pubescent whelp of a voice.
That voice is everywhere on Make Believe, sliding, babbling, and careening dangerously at times over the off-kilter time signatures that makes up this 5-song EP from Kinsella’s latest project. The closest thing to a “straightforward band” setup that Kinsella has been involved in for some time, Make Believe consists of a simple guitar/bass/drums approach, with a few injections of Hammond organ here and there. The first track, “We’re All Going To Die,” should surprise any listener who expected any sort of comparison to Tim’s other main project, Joan Of Arc. Avant-garde rock noise springs forth for just an instant before he begins screaming over the spastic guitar work of long-time Kinsella-collaborator Sam Zurick – and it’s apparent from Kinsella’s screechings that spending nearly a decade in the tweaked-out, artsy Joan Of Arc hasn’t drained him of the hyperactive, spluttering vocal style that made Cap’n Jazz distinctly endearing to many ears. Neither has he lost his wit or his ability to say whatever comes to him, but the surprise is that he may actually now be saying something that’s worth hearing.
“All the heavy metal songs are good when they say never surrender,” Kinsella playfully pokes, but then continues in his diatribe on the current state of music with: “All the hip hop hits are good when they say say my name / All the patriotic country hits are good when they say be patriotic / Because patriotism is critical.” Wait – hold on – those were some pretty straightforward lyrics. What, no clever word trickery or nursery-rhyme homoerotic imagery? Kinsella has reinvented himself through regression. His vocals on Make Believe call to mind his earlier musical endeavors, but his lyrics are a far cry from anything he’s done before. The trick: he’s making observations.
Kinsella shows no signs of letting up in his attack on major rock bands, declaring that: “If the radio is any kind of indication then I guess all they got is God and sports in Bakersfield / And of course who am I to know, but it seems they got neither of their own,” an obvious stab at the Bakersfield-born nu-metal/jock rock sound. And yet, Kinsella still has to throw in one last self-deprecating yet simultaneously “better-than-you” line with “And baby, you know I’m no athlete, but I’ve got a way with God.”
There are even “heart-goes-out” observations about third-world sweatshops and the desensitization of Americans: “Thanks to whoever made my shoes here / Wherever you may be now / I bet you think about killing yourself all the time.” And then, apologetically: “I was just born into my assumptions / A simple understanding of violence and central air’s seduction.”
The combination of Nate Kinsella (Tim’s cousin) on drums, Bobby Burg (Love Of Everything) on bass, and Zurick’s techy, noodling guitar style does little more than serve as a vessel for Tim Kinsella’s voice, which works as an instrument in and of itself. Zurick manages some impressive guitar playing, but brandishes few tricks that he didn’t use while playing in Ghosts & Vodka, while Burg and Nate seem to be more keeping up with Zurick and Kinsella’s freak-outs. The bottom line: Make Believe would be incredibly uninteresting without Tim Kinsella. With him, they serve of up the most intriguing music he’s been a part of outside of playing with Cap’n Jazz, both in their original form and as Owls. Moreover, as it was with those groups, it is Kinsella who packs the punch – and it will be Kinsella who will make or break the disc for a listener. Each of his projects has always carried the weight of trying to be different than his others, but Make Believe seems to throw that weight off and let its difference speak loudly, albeit in a voice that most people can’t stand the sound of.