KEVIN DEVINE – ” Instigator “

Posted: December 16, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , ,

Kevin Devine suffers from Nice Guy Syndrome. Over the last 20 years, his smiling face has been such a reliable staple in the indie rock scene that it’s almost possible to take him and his music for granted. But over those two decades, the Brooklyn songwriter has quietly amassed a substantial catalog of solidly crafted albums. With his ninth solo effort, “Instigator”, it’s clearer than ever that it’s time to take a step back and appreciate just how talented this guy is. “Instigator’s” first half alone includes no fewer than four absolutely perfect songs. And the album’s relentless assault of catchy hooks makes its easy to overlook the fact that Devine is tackling timely and important topics like police murder and the hypocritical nature of political criticism. Kevin Devine is not asking for your respect as a songwriter here.

For Kevin Devine, as for so many Americans in 2017, the lines between the political and the personal have become a little blurred. “Life is really sweet right now on the ground and really fucking insane in the air,” Devine says. At 37, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has learned to balance talking about the present and his past, singing about everything from his own personal trauma to government shutdowns. But with our current climate, Devine knows it’s pretty impossible to avoid the political. “It’s so omnipresent that it can’t not sneak in, and it kind of comes in through the side, but I haven’t sat down to write my nuclear war song yet or my ‘the president is a racist’ [track],” he explains. His 2016 album, Instigator, was written largely during the presidential campaign, but was recorded and released before the actual election.

“A few of the songs that are on there that are social justice songs unfortunately have aged really well, given what happened,” he notes. For instance, “Freddie Gray Blues” focuses on police brutality and institutional racism, while “No History” reflects on how little we’ve learned as a nation since 9-11. The words still resonated in 2017 — maybe more than ever — but Devine wanted to shift tone. The result: a more contextual, stripped-down re-work of Instigator called We Are Who We’ve Always Been, released in October. “It felt like the timing was right for recommunicating those [songs] with a bit more solemnity or gravity,” he says. “Everyone is just feeling their way through how to reckon with [our current reality] and how to communicate about it, I think. I know that I am.”

For his latest release, Devine sought the help of his friend and collaborator of fifteen years, Chris Bracco. Recorded in just two days, the bulk of the album is just live guitar and vocals. “The baseline thing we wanted was no electric guitar and to keep it to acoustic guitar, vocal, and harmonies,” says Devine, explaining that he wanted the album to have a direct, spare quality to it: something akin to the intimacy of a live performance. During the writing and recording process, he was immersed in Big Thief’s latest record, Capacity, listening to it on loop. “[Capacity] is actually a spare, direct-communicator record, so I’m sure that snuck in subconsciously.”

For “Freddie Gray Blues,” Devine recruited SWIVS’ Will Schalda, Jr., while Half Waif’s Nandi Rose Plunkett assisted on the cascading harmonies of “I Was Alive Back Then.” For “No One Says You Have To,Devine recruited the Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn. The collaborations were all pleasant surprises, especially when they came out differently than he had imagined. “I think all three of them made a cool, new painting with what they did.”

Having joined forces with Atlanta band Manchester Orchestra on the indie rock side project Bad Books — and after a short-lived tour with Brand New this fall  Devine is at least temporarily focusing on his own work again.

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