Nate Kinsella’s extensive musical path has placed him onstage with a number of indie bands such as Make Believe, December Architects and, notably, math rock Chicago band Joan of Arc (where he joined his brother Tim and cousin Mike). Kinsella plays countless instruments, from accordion to Wurlitzer, and is equally versed in the programming side of things. After tinkering with his own music for a while on the side, the multi-instrumentalist broke off officially from Joan of Arc to explore his own musical space. His solo work came to fruition in 2007 when Kinsella produced The Layer under the moniker Birthmark. He followed this remarkable debut album with Shaking Hands in 2010. This year, the talented Chicagoan-cum-Brooklynite released a third work, Antibodies.
As an artist, Birthmark (Nate Kinsella) has had many years to hone his highly ornate style of music composition, adding new instruments to his repertoire along the way as he conspired with various midwestern bands such as December Architects and Make Believe. No doubt, his experience as part of the changing lineup for indie rock band Joan of Arc has contributed to some of the introspective, math rock-type precision programming that appears on Birthmark’s third and latest full-length Antibodies. Without overwhelming the overall balance of each song or the album as a whole, Kinsella creates an engaging picture that manages to include what seems like every instrument he knows how to play.
Throughout Antibodies, Kinsella demonstrates his musicianship in captivating layers of instruments from all walks of life, gradually revealing them in intricate, catchy compositions. Opener “Stuck” begins like it might be a lost instrumental piece from Peter and the Wolf. Flutes and horns unfold over a simple undercurrent of bass and percussive chime, building a low- key, dappled clip with Kinsella’s soft vocals laid gently across. “I’m stuck,” he sings. “To the earth below me. I’m stuck to the ones who love me.” The song ends onomatopoetically with a final defiant delivery of the phrase “I’m stuck.” Album single, “Shake Hands,” features a full string section played in reverse, resulting in a mellifluous, warm backdrop to a truly beautiful love song. “We’ll shake hands, touch our mouths. It’s so good to see you again,” Kinsella croons calmly. The simplicity of song lyrics is a perfect contrast to the richness of its instrumentation.
Not all Birthmark’s songs are optimistic and love-inspired. With a vocal quality that strikes of Chris Martin, Kinsella sings about lies and war amid dark strings in the ironically named “You Lighten Me Up.” Similarly, he unveils a darker approach to discussing life and love in “Pacifist Manifesto.” Strings march menacingly forward in staccato, and then skate along gracefully beneath tenuous Gibbard-esque vocals. The song rises to a peak of chimes, horns, strings and a stern shaker, and he sings, “I have my doubts that I could keep control, as I kneel by your side while someone’s hands wrap around your throat.” In this way, Kinsella wrestles with the idea of passion and Pacifism across somber strings. Birthmark’s fluency with his instruments allows him to express feelings where words and ideas alone fall short.