Kevin Devine


Written by: TL on 08/02/2014 21:55:41

On the same day of 2013 when Kevin Devine put out a full band record featuring a disintegrating portrait of George Washington as artwork, cheekily titled "Bubblegum", the veteran alternative songwriter also put out a more personal record, adorned with his own candid portrait and yet still hinting an edge through the contrasting "Bulldozer" title. If there's anything sharp on here though, it's restricted to the lyrical department, because as opposed to the 90's influenced indie/grunge of "Bubblegum", "Bulldozer" is country/folk through and through, resting solidly on twangy guitars and tempered drum patterns.

Centering around Devine's singing, which here sounds like something between Conor Oberst and Neil Young, the stage seems set for a similarly Dylan-esque troubadourism, where Devine uses his country's more conservative musical traditions to form a cosy backdrop to a treatment of both social and personal issues. Unlike an Oberst however, Devine keeps his emotions in check and delivers his musings in a calm tone that strongly contrasts the frustrations his words hint at. For examples, I suggest at least checking out opener "Now: Navigate!", in which two black teens observe a Nordic model who appears to them as "lunar, impossible, alien life", displaying a social inequality against which we struggle futilely, or for an opposite, listen to "Matter Of Time", in which Devine somewhat regretfully remarks on his nature as a bit of a rolling stone.

The lyrics are occasionally quite excellent, as a read through of these two should prove to you, with especially the former working across multiple levels. This is why it's a real shame that the instrumental side of "Bulldozer" is so introverted and uninspiring. The often semi-acoustic arrangements stick fairly loyally to alt-country conventions, but in a way that feels disconnected from the lyrical subject matter, especially because Devine's casual singing style does so little to tie the two aspects together. Ironically this means that a song like "She Can See Me" - which has some of the simplest lyrics - becomes a highlight simply for sparking a bit of variety with its increased pace and energy amidst a collection of songs that feel too mellow and tightly wound - Like they're exact stylistic exercises meant as nothing more than bare-boned foundations for the lyrics.

Consequentially, "Bulldozer" is a record that has a lot of interesting things to say with words, yet it lives in persistent risk of boring the listener too much both instrumentally and vocally for them to pay attention to those words. Considering how elegantly Devine touches upon some potentially heartbreaking issues with his writing, one hence wishes he would put some of his indie cool and calm at risk and put together some slightly more dramatic arrangements that would reflect light upon his sharper sentiments. The way I see it there would be no shame in doing so, instead of making a seemingly bored record like "Bulldozer", which mostly feels like it protects those sentiments - not in bubblegum - but in bubble wrap.

Download: Now: Navigate!, She Can See Me
For The Fans Of: Andrew Jackson Jihad, Conor Oberst, Neil Young, Bob Dylan

Release Date 15.10.2013
Devinyl Records

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