Rumor has it that many people, critics and listeners alike, harbor an intense, not-so-secret hatred for Tim Kinsella. As the eccentric frontman for Joan of Arc, former member of Cap’n Jazz and sometime member of Owls (Cap’n Jazz reunited, minus Davey von Bohlen), Kinsella may be one of the more misunderstood musicians in the art-rock world. Or he may just be an asshole. Either way, his solo EPs are appropriate litmus tests, sets of mini-Joan of Arc songs that should polarize any potential listeners within a two-song span.
The difference between Kinsella and his band(s) are minimal; the instrumentation is basically the only judge. Crucifix Swastika, like its sole predecessor, 2001’s He Sang His Didn’t And He Danced His Did, is all Kinsella’s voice and acoustic guitar, save for a few patches of synthesizer and drum-machine beats. The stripped-down approach betrays all that is Kinsella by himself, but the songs are as perplexing as you might expect.
The lyrics are a hair shy of nonsensical (see “I’m Not a Robot-Barbarian,” which is exactly what it sounds like), paradox is laid out deliberately, even feeling a bit forced (see the album title and accompanying cover, which features the two symbols decorated with smiley faces and riding skateboards), and dissonance is dropped with questionable intent. Kinsella supporters and dissenters could go all Fox News and argue indefinitely about whether or not the man is just making up nonsensical crap as he goes along, but there comes a time in the listening process when it simply doesn’t matter.
On his solo material (and on much of Joan of Arc’s recordings), Kinsella’s formula of seemingly improvised self-indulgence strikes gold in its sound. Though this EP shares a couple tracks of instrumental guitar noodling to a poorly set delay pedal (one of which is thankfully presented as a hidden track), the majority of the set consists of short, solid acoustic numbers. His voice sounds as weak as ever, but the analog living-room quality actually spins his sound more endearingly than any fully-polished Polyvinyl recording ever could.
If Kinsella is truly the pinnacle of musical pretension, then the world of popular music has a great deal to think about. Flaky lyrics and a forced artistic image are as harsh as crimes can get, but a musical talent that values true creativity should at least get a bit of credit. Whatever your protests may be to Kinsella’s lyrical approach and overbearing sense of the avant garde (like changing his name to “Kinsellas” for no reason when he started working on his first solo EP), he’s an unquestionably creative acoustic guitar player and producer. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, and sometimes the bad is just so damned confusing you can’t help but ignore it entirely.