The facts, to this point, boiled down: Kevin Devine is a largely slept-on Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter quietly and constantly adding idiosyncratic chapters to his unique success story, building an international fanbase across genre lines through the damnedest combination of working his ass off and consistently getting better at what he does. Weird, right?
"Brother's Blood," his fifth record and first with Manchester Orchestra's Favorite Gentlemen record label, is the most resounding evidence of that ethic and maturation - a sprawling, confident mission statement about conscience, culture, and personality. So while it certainly isn't Kevin's fault you don't know his stuff already, we won't hold it against you. Now's a great time to get on board.
"Brother's Blood" is a response to the three years Kevin spent touring relentlessly behind "Put Your Ghost To Rest," his Rob Schnapf-produced fourth record initially released by Capitol/EMI and later re-issued by Brand New's Procrastinate! Music Traitors following Devine's dismissal from Capitol during its bloody merger with Virgin. The "indie-rocker forced to punch out of the corner by the panicked and impatient major label system" story is hardly a new one; coming out not only relatively unscathed but with a healthier and more thriving career than when you went in is much rarer.
Kevin accomplished that the old fashioned way: playing close to 600 shows between June 2006 and December 2008, establishing a broad and versatile appeal without centralized support from either the record industry or the music press. In doing so, he's crafted a career arc with unique access between worlds, comfortably sharing stages (and vans) in that time frame with a wide array of artists across the spectrum: from AA Bondy to Annuals, Manchester Orchestra to Elf Power, Rachael Yamagata to Jennifer O'Connor, Brand New to Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, KT Tunstall to Dead Confederate, Jaymay to The Jealous Girlfriends, Chin Up Chin Up to Lucero, Corinne Bailey Rae to Caribou, mewithoutyou to Most Serene Republic, Cary Brothers to Mike Doughty, Ingrid Michaelson to Katy Perry. The Sundance Film Festival with She & Him and Mandy Moore to Austin City Limits with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Andrew Bird; Give It A Name in the UK with All-American Rejects to Soundwave in Australia with The Offspring; SXSW to CMJ; England and Ireland, Europe and Japan; capped by two triumphantly oversold headline gigs at New York's iconic Bowery Ballroom the first 8 months of 2008. Here, there and everywhere. Hell, dude ended up playing with both Brand New AND Okkervil River at Lollapalooza 2008 and he wasn't even on the bill.
Somewhere in all that motion, Kevin managed to whip 15 or so songs into shape and started visualizing what would become "Brother's Blood," recording barebones acoustic versions of the tracks in early '08 and eventually rehearsing and demoing those with his erstwhile Goddamn Band (Brian Bonz on keys & percussion, Chris Bracco on bass, Mike Skinner on drums, Russell Smith on guitar, and Mike Strandberg on guitar) in their Brooklyn practice space all summer. Carving away at and layering ideas with producers Bracco & Skinner and engineer Dan Long, the band bunkered down in Williamsburg's Headgear Studios (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Au Revoir Simone, Son Volt) for the first two weeks of August. Devine consciously ceded more control of arrangement to his players, hoping to affect a more live, full-band feel for the first time on record.
The results speak for themselves. "Brother's Blood" is both the next step and a break in form; it reflects the diverse talents and contributions of The Goddamn Band as much as it speaks to the scope of Devine's influences and commitment to exploring new stylistic territory. Lead single "I Could Be With Anyone" is a charging and hook-heavy pop song equally indebted to The Cars and Superchunk; "Another Bag Of Bones" (initially released as a Rob Schnapf-produced acoustic single around the ramp-up to the election) pins its dystopian and restless vision of a civilization in freefall to a dark and explosive groove before finding release in a choir's hopeful strain; the title track is a massive and dynamic homage to the epic guitar freakouts of Neil Young and Built To Spill; and the hypnotic and ominous "Carnival" sets the tone its with spacious, swirling flares of psychedelia, its dynamic exploration of tension and release playing against a nightmarish hallucination about lost willpower and the fear of finally waking up to a real life that's even crazier than your dreams.
But far from being solely a straight up 'rock' record, some of "Brother's Blood"s finest moments are its quietest;
opener "All Of Everything, Erased" lays a bed of nimble and rhythmic finger-picking for its vivid description of a world left no recourse but to cleanse itself of us and start over; "Fever Moon" is a sultry, Latin-influenced meditation on lust and its consequences that wouldn't seem out of place on a 1970s Leonard Cohen album; "Murphy's Song" features a dazzling vocal turn from Jaymay that adds some jazz-era sensuality to the song's trumpet and piano-sprinkled Carribean lilt; and on "Tomorrow's Just Too Late," Kevin and Brand New's Jesse Lacey deliver a delicate and weaving full-song harmony that would make Simon & Garfunkel proud.
So. "Brother's Blood" is the record everyone's been waiting for Kevin Devine to make. The songs and the work ethic are in place. Dude's doing his job. Anyone else?