Kevin Devine-‘Instigator’

v600_kd_instigator_1600            Kevin Devine is a phenomenal songwriter in the same way Billie Joe Armstrong is a great songwriter.  His songs can be very simple, but they’re all pretty catchy, and the lyrics and vocals are at the forefront.  He’s also most well-known for mixing both intensely personal lyrics with some political views peppered in.  Where Armstrong has gotten vague, Devine has become hyper specific, and Instigator is one of the best records of 2016.

Where songs about drinking alone, unrequited crushes and self-pity may have become old-hat, Devine’s latest is one of his best and most refreshing albums.  Instigator is mostly a record about making peace with the world you live in.  The title track and “Magic Magnet” romanticize both the good and bad in relationships.  Devine is both madly in love and wants to have arguments with you (when you need to).  The best part of these songs is the seeming glee that Devine presents them with.  The guitar tones are bright, and the tempo is up.  Both songs sound like driving down a Los Angeles highway in the summer time.  “No One Says You Have To” is about as mellow as the album gets, but the quick fingerpicking and soothing tone are equally as positive.  “Before You’re Here” is a beachy song about anticipating the birth of his daughter.

Even what appear to be Devine’s darkest personal moments have a positive twist on them.  In “Daydrunk,” Devine sings:

But daydrunk is what I used to be

No Jimmy Buffet song

No island imagery

Old men

Dying retirees

Bellies on the bar

Elbows up with me.

Despite the darker imagery depicting Devine’s alcohol and drug abuse, he sings it in a cheery, poppy little song.  The album closer, “I Was Alive Back Then,” reflects on some larger moments in his life-depression, Christmas mornings, marriage.  The song’s repeated chorus of “I was alive back then” makes it seem like Devine is beginning his midlife crisis at 36, but when he ends, he sings, “I was alive back then/Now, I am again,” singing about the birth of his daughter.  It’s the most somber, sobering moment of the album.

Following the first three upbeat numbers, Devine gives us “Freddie Gray Blues.”  It’s a haunting track that tackles not only the current issues of police brutality, but Devine addresses his own white-privilege from a very self-aware point of view.  He also offers this different point-of-view that leaves a lot of people conflicted:

When I’m talking these killer cop blues

I’m kinda talking my family to you

See, my dad was a cop

And his dad was a cop

And my uncles were cops

And my cousins were cops

I’m partly here because of cops

And I love all those cops

And I know not every cop

Is a racist, murdering cop

But this is bigger than the people I love

The system’s broken

Not breaking

It’s done

In a song like this, Devine mixes his two styles beautifully, and he’s penned a protest song as good as Bob Dylan’s “The Hurricane.”

“Both Ways” is a surf-punk jam that both satirizes and criticizes the United States.  The song is mainly calling out hypocrisy that mostly seems to be calling out right-wing conservatives.  One of Devine’s most clever lyrics is “You can’t weaponize Jesus/and be shocked when the heathens shoot back.”  At the same time, it seems Devine is praising the United States for being a nation that could allow both, or he could be understanding of where both sides come from.  He could also just be satirical.

This brings us to perhaps my favorite Kevin Devine song ever written.  “No History” is a song about the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  The song crams a range of emotions into three and a half minutes.  The song begins sounding like a search party.  Devine recounts the day of the attacks, his own coping, and turning to his father to try to make sense of it all.  Devine sings as his father, “I know I see it/I thought it made sense.  I don’t anymore.”  The chorus erupts into a word salad of confusion where Devine sees a destroyed city, anger at Muslims, and a mourning nation.  Before the final chorus, Devine reflects on how far we’ve come from that day.  We’re still in a world where we’ve fought a war on terror that, at times, seems to have gone nowhere.  Still, he reflects on seeing his niece as an infant, and how life does go on.  “This is the future: severe and always happening.”  It’s a song that’s powerful, to say the least.  Devine’s politics may not be for everyone, but he certainly presents himself in an honest way that demands your attention.

Monday Mixtape 10/17: (Bob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Kevin Devine, Black Kids!)

Paul McCartney feat. Rihanna-“FourFiveSeconds”

This weekend saw the wrap up of the Desert Trip festival in Indio, California.  McCartney was probably one of the biggest draws when the festival was announced, but he brought out a special guest who is definitely more suited for Coachella.

 

Aimee Mann-“Can’t You Tell”

The 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign has been a recurring story here at BurgerADay for the past week.  Aimee Mann’s song is easily one of the best songs to come out of it.  It’s a driving number that takes on a much sadder point-of-view that almost forces the listener to emphasize with the Republican Presidential Candidate

 

The Who-“Baba O’Riley”

Another “Oldchella” act.  While The Beatles and Rolling Stones are essentials for any music fan, I always preferred Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon growing up.  It’s hard to find a song as timeless as “Baba O’Riley.”  That synthesizer riff is one of the most iconic in history.

Kevin Devine-“Freddie Gray Blues”

 

As the release of Kevin Devine’s Instigator draws closer, we’ve been treated to the album stream.  Devine did release this track right after the murder of Freddie Gray, and it’s just as haunting.  Devine both acknowledges his white privilege and relationships with cops, and it’s chilling.

Moose Blood-“Honey”

The UK pop-punk outfit has just embarked on a US tour opening for The Wonder Years.  Where their first album had more emo-influence, Blush is sugary sweet pop-punk, and the lead single is probably the best song from the album.  The band is sure to be exciting. 

Modern Baseball-“Phone Tag”

Another tour-opener.  Modern Baseball has just kicked off a tour with Brand New and The Front Bottoms.  While their setlist mostly features takes from the excellent Holy Ghost, I’ve been revisiting their B-sides.  This reworking of “It’s Cold Out Here” is a nice change of pace, and the altered lyrics at the end are much better than the original.

Brand New-“Not the Sun”

Brand New has been playing Devil and God front to back on their current tour, forcing me to revisit the album.  While the most popular tracks never fail to entertain, I’m pleasantly reminded how great songs like “Welcome to Bangkok” or “Not the Sun” are.

Bob Dylan-“Desolation Row”

The biggest music news story this week has been about the Nobel Prize winner.  Dylan’s poetry is perhaps best summed up in this song, and here’s a video from this weekend’s Desert Trip.

Black Kids-“Obligatory Drugs”

Black Kids are back with this fun-as-hell track.  “Obligatory Drugs” is a dancey, indie-rock song with an undeniable hook.  I’m definitely in.