Two years ago, I started this blog with a few friends because I loved music and writing and I thought it would be fun. Since then, it has become so much more. Now we have four active contributors and I have met some amazing people and heard incredible music. I am excited to continue and for whatever lies ahead. The story of Bad Books mirrors my story. In fact, one of the first albums I reviewed on the blog was Bad Books’ self titled debut, which you can read here. For those who don’t know, Bad Books began as a friendship between Manchester Orchestra‘s lead vocalist Andy Hull and singer/songwriter/all around cool guy Kevin Devine. After meeting a few years prior, they kicked around the idea of jamming together. Eventually, this side project, of which Hull is no stranger (see Right Away, Great Captain!) became less Andy and Kevin dicking around with guitars and melodies and an actual band recording an album over the course of a few days between your dates, consisting of Andy Hull, Kevin Devine and a few other members of Manchester Orchestra. Fast forward two years and my blog has had over 12,000 hits and Bad Books has done it again! Hooray!
The appropriately named sophomore effort II is set to release on October 9th, 2012. I was privileged enough to listen to the album early thanks to Ken and Chris at Big Hassle Media.
The party starts with “The After Party”. Guitars strum and herald Andy Hull’s signature smooth voice. The lyrics touch on being alone and as is often the case with Manchester Orchestra songs, I get the sense the song stems from personal experiences and stylistically brings to mind their most recent release, Simple Math. The song is not all quiet brooding, as it’s peppered with loud guitars and a drum beat to keep the blood pumping.
Next up is “No Reward”, Kevin Devine takes over on vocals, as part two of this singing tag team. At this point I will stress that Bad Books, while a great collaboration, often sounds nearly indistinguishable from the sum of its parts. For example, this song sounds like something that could easily have appeared on Kevin Devine’s solo albums or with his Goddamn Band. Depending on the opinion of the individual listener, this could either be a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I enjoy both Devine and Manchester Orchestra so much, that more music from either or both is always welcome.
“Forest Whitaker” is the first, and likely only, single from the album. They released the single on iTunes and offered listens on Facebook a while back, so if you’re eager to hear the album you can check it out and it may tide you over. It’s a catchy song with plenty of wit no doubt composed as a collaboration of Hull and Devine. It features midi inspired guitar licks and happy whistling that brings to mind the master of the musical whistle, Andrew Bird. It’s poppy, peppy and like most rap songs, most listeners won’t pay attention to the lyrical content because of it. This song, while clearly commercial, isn’t meant for the casual listeners who just want to hear a happy song. One of the best things about these two artists is their thoughtful and interesting lyrics. This song tells a story and while it may be the only song on the album that most people hear, it’s a solid track and a stand out that I recommend.
Next up is “It Never Stops”, a track that begins with the calm, cool voice of Kevin Devine. Soon comes a steady stream of guitars, reminiscent of those in “All My Life” by the Foo Fighters. In also comes some great backing vocals and harmonies from Hull. This too is a little catchy, though not nearly as commercial as the track preceding it.
“Py0tr” begins with soft acoustic guitar strumming and showcases the trembling voice of Andy Hull. Stylistically and lyrically, it would fit right in on Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math. It’s a nice change of pace and serves as a sort of intermission on this eleven track album. Andy Hull wrote the song about Peter the Great having a conversation with a severed head, a la Sin City. Check out what Andy Hull had to say about it:
Then there’s “Friendly Advice”. Hull takes the helm once more on this one. The instrumentals have a bit of a stuttering effect, which accents the awkwardness of Hull’s persona here. There are some nice harmonies throughout with Kevin Devine’s voice chiming in every once in a while. Fun song.
Devine returns to lead vocals on “No Sides”, which features driving, crunchy guitars and clapping to accompany the percussion. This one should be fun to see live. Which reminds me, I am so excited to see Bad Books in concert on their current tour. I’m going to catch them at The Troubadour in Hollywood. They are touring several cities and trying to hit spots they missed on their last tour, so check it out to see if they will be visiting a town near you.
The next song is “Petite Mort” or little death. The song, Devine explains, is about relationships that go sour and the feeling of uneasiness at breaking it off. The phrase is also a euphemism for the big O, so there’s that. It’s a fun track with an interesting sound.
Hull sings on “42.” If the style seems a little different from the others, it’s because he wrote it back when Manchester Orchestra was working on “Mean Everything to Nothing.” It’s another slower song showcasing the awesome vocals and is more akin to his RAGC work than Manchester Orchestra.
The softer side of Bad Books continues with “Lost Creek”. It’s a reflective song about growing up and not following the same ideals of your parents. It’s another story song and Bad Books does a great job invoking feelings in this realm. There’s a cool echoing sound to the drums here and you can really relax listening to it. It’s a good penultimate track on a solid sophomore album from the indie supergroup.
“Ambivalent Peaks” closes out the album with Devine again taking on the lead vocalist role. At 5:13, it’s the longest track on the album. The lyrics seem to be somewhat military focused, perhaps a soldier returning home and finding things different, colder and perhaps suffering from PTSD. There is a very interesting lyric: “You laughed at my back, said you could not believe how violent I could be, just brushing my teeth.” Maybe I’m wrong, but if not, it wouldn’t be the first time Devine sang about war. Check out “Another Bag of Bones” and “No Time Flat” for good examples of that.
Overall, I think it’s a great second album from a band that doesn’t really tour that much and most of the time, technically doesn’t exist, but somehow, just like the last time, the boys from Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine managed to make yet another great record in a matter of days, in between their full-time gigs and amongst other side projects. If you’re a fan of either Manchester Orchestra or Kevin Devine, it’s a no brainer. If you’re a fan of both, you probably already pirated the album and have seen them in concert several times. If you’ve never heard of either, I hope you’ll read and give it a listen. You’ll probably like what you hear.
- Four Word Letter, Pt. 1: mewithoutYou and Kevine Devine at The Glass House (thestereolounge.com)
- Release Info: Bad Books (dontleavetowngavin.com)
- [MP3] Bad Books – “It Never Stops” (laststopwonderland.com)
- The Drowning Men and Bad Books (thestranger.com)
- New Music Tuesday: October 9th, 2012 (earbits.com)