Kevin Devine– Bulldozer
Release Date: October15, 2013
Record Label: Devinyl Records
When Kevin Devine sang “And if you really go and reinstate the draft, you'll straight away just split the country straight in half,” on 2005’s “No Time Flat,” there was an electric charge behind it; a tension that continues to make your heart rise in your throat even though we’re far removed from the absurd political climate that the song was written in. All this over a meandering, sleepy strum of a guitar, with Devine hardly even raising his voice or changing his tone. The political tinges of Devine’s work has always felt secondary to his personal experiences, but it was an undercurrent that could sweep you along in its tide of conviction and deposit you temporarily in a world where the draft might actually come back.
Eight years later, Devine’s Bulldozer opens with the spiritual successor to “No Time Flat.” The woozy, swaying melodies of “Now: Navigate!” are lent the muscle of amps and strings thise time, as well as a more tempered, nuanced perspective. Devine has begun to strike at the heart of political strife in America, recognizing that “it’s nobody’s fault, there’s no one to blame” for the state of affairs that alienate significant portions of the population from the whole. Age has lent him a wisdom that alleviates much of the burden he seems to have placed on himself in the past, but he’s determined to carry it on “slender shoulders” nonetheless. He does so on both Bulldozer and Bubblegum, but the recognition that begins the former affords Devine the freedom to explore his person without writhing in parallel political entanglements.
At the Write Your Story Now: Celebrating Ten Years of Kevin Devine performance last year, Devine made a running commentary on the works he had written as a kid. He remarked that upon relearning songs he had written over a decade ago, he learned that he “found out he liked the kid” who wrote them. Later, he performed “From Here” for the first time as a way of reconnecting with the home that was left little more than glorified flotsam in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Bulldozer finds Kevin Devine reconciling himself with the virulent, anxious peacenik from Long Island, but the meeting of past and present is not without it’s rough edges. “From Here” is blessed with the frenetic, tweedy acoustic energy that was Devine’s biggest draw for most of his career; but the chorus lacks the punch that is expected of the subject matter. The storybook rhythm of “The Worm In Every” makes it stand out among the drawling hum of guitars on the back half of Bulldozer, but is marred by lyrics imbued with an unsuccessful bucolic childishness. In the course of just over a half hour, mistakes like this are unfortunate, but to be expected in the course of writing and recording two albums of such different intent.
Despite it’s flaws Bulldozer is still a largely successful album: “Little Bulldozer” stands alongside the best songs of Devine’s fleshed-out recent output. It’s flush with staccato vocal and guitar picks that work surprisingly well as hooks. The imagery Devine sings is as bluntly evocative as ever, with him asking for his “little bulldozer” to come closer, the flattening destruction imminent lent a poignancy by Devine’s experience that a younger writer would struggle to make. “Couldn’t Be Happier” is a boilerplate remark about someone else’s happiness, the type of sentiment everyone purports to experience and expresses. But it is one that Devine undercuts and complicates with the underlying regret held back only by civility; there’s little room to interpret his feeling as anything but desperate malaise because of the instrumentation on the song. The waltzing of Devine and his partner under the “strawberry sun” on “Matter of Time” is expressive of little more than his otherwise inarticulate gratitude for her, his compass. A simple, common emotion once more lent depth and affectation by the crisply warm voice of a wizened elder statesmen. Even when the tracks on Bulldozer begin to falter, they are carried ably not on Devine’s narrow shoulders, but on the airy sincerity of his voice.
Comparisons to his past work and Bulldozer’s companion Bubblegum are inevitable, and remarking on Devine’s similarity to Elliott Smith is redundant at this point. After a massively successful Kickstarter, Bulldozer might stand as the lesser of twin records, but to dismiss it entirely is to make an equally large mistake. Far from perfect, and certainly not among the highest peaks of his storied career, but Kevin Devine’s ambition and consistency is to be applauded. To release what is essentially double album so late into a career, and to make the two of them have such marked differences in both subjects and aesthetic is a bold, potentially disastrous move. It is a testament to Devine’s self-awareness of his ability as a songwriter that Bulldozer is not bloated to compensate for its lighter fare, and he sticks the landing with aplomb. It has been more than ten years since the first Kevin Devine solo record was released; Bulldozer gives us reason to hope that there will be more to come.
so far i like this better than bubblegum. it's got lots of parts that have that signature rob schnapf sound on them and when you pair that with some of KD's best songwriting since brother's blood you have a very good record on your hands.
wow I couldn't agree less with that review. Are you listening to the same albums that I am? Have you listened more than once? Have you followed Kevin's career at all? You are mimicking a review but you are way of the mark....I haven't logged into AP in over 5 years but needed to do so after reading that drivel.