Kevin Devine turns 34 years old this December. A product of New York City’s boroughs, he went on to front the popular local band “Miracle of 86”, named after my beloved New York Mets’ miraculous 1986 World Series victory. He also put in time with the Staten Island band “Delusion” and has released a number of solo albums. At his age, and with such a respectable track record, it would be fair to wonder if his best days were behind him and he’s said all he could say.
However, those thoughts go against what Kevin Devine’s music had represented. The Brooklyn boy has always looked to expand on what he can do: write a stronger message, hit a higher sound, and go bigger than he did on the previous albums. Six albums into his solo career, Kevin turned to Kickstarter to fund an ambitious double-album project featuring one solo album in collaboration with Rob Schnapf and one full-band album featuring his backing band, The Goddamn Band, which would be produced by beloved and cryptic Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey. Kevin’s fanbase met his ambition, hitting the goal in one day and helping raise over $114,000 in just over one month. Kevin appeared humbled and invigorated by his fans’ strong support, and the anticipation had been set at a high mark.
The wait for LP7 and LP8, entitled Bulldozer and Bubblegum, respectively, ended on October 15 with their official release, resulting in what amounts to a thorough encyclopedia of Kevin Devine. The albums deliver a balanced mix of the mellower songs and the more chaotic songs, yet the result feels both calculated and purposeful. Opening with the steady strumming of Bulldozer opener “Now, Navigate”, the tune builds from a poetic acoustic tune into a raucous rock number containing Kevin’s thought-provoking lyrics. Like his past work, the words read like lines from a biography mixed with political, social, and geographical observations.
The tracks touch a number of subjects, from the horrors Sandy wreaked on Staten Island (From Here) to thoughts on convicted U.S. Soldier Bradley Manning (Private First Class) to frustration towards the current U.S. fiscal crisis (Fiscal Cliff). Whether dealing with first-hand accounts or third person observations, the songs are emboldened by the vivid imagery, personal narratives and strong passion that Kevin feels for the subject he’s speaking on. Kevin weaves seamlessly through each topic a strong sentiment of desperation, anger, and affection. While Bulldozer draws a strong influence from the likes of Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel (Matter of Time, For Eugene), Bubblegum sees a brasher side of Kevin with a decidedly Nirvana-esque sound (Nobel Prize, Somewhere Unoccupied) to it. Jesse Lacey, taking his first dive into the producer game, allows the cathartic nature of the songs to burst through in a grand fashion.
What helps Bulldozer and Bubblegum out so spectacularly is that it feels like Kevin has embraced the full-band sound and it seems that the influence is felt in the final product. There is a level of consistency and rhythm found in his music over the past few years, which differs greatly from the chaos of earlier albums like Split the Country, Split the Street and Put Your Ghost to Rest. I should note those albums were still spectacular, as much or moreso than his recent work, but his past three albums (including the tremendous 2011 album Between the Concrete & Clouds) have felt more conceptual in nature and revolving around a steadier sound. With the Goddamn Band now becoming a full part of his live show, rather than just a group of backing musicians, the sound has crept into his recorded work, making it sound even better.
I have often compared Kevin Devine and Frank Turner, perhaps because they are my two favorite solo artists. Even though they are entirely different (one being more indie-rock while the other being more folk-punk), the two have a large catalog with a wide variety of sounds stemming from a number of varying influences. Like Kevin, Frank Turner’s last two albums have felt more conceptual, both thematically and musically, stemming from working with the same backing band, The Sleeping Souls, and having their influence in the studio in addition to the live setting. Kevin Devine’s growth as a musician has been a wonderful journey to watch, but at 34 years old and with 8 solo albums to his name, along with two albums with the young collaboration with Manchester Orchestra titled “Bad Books”, it’s safe to say that Kevin Devine is just getting started.