Let me start by saying that after seeing them live, I am a huge fan of Manchester Orchestra and their already impressive body of work. Songs like “Wolves at Night”, “I’ve Got Friends”, and “The Only One” make me groove and put a smile on my face. Their live performance really gave the feeling that although there were only five guys on that stage, it might as well have been an entire orchestra. Lead singer Andy Hull’s haunting lyrics and the band’s fast paced, catchy, yet not entirely poppy music make for a truly memorable live show.
On the other hand, I have not yet had the opportunity to see Kevin Devine perform. I have thoroughly enjoyed his albums “Split the Country, Split the Street” (2005), “Brother’s Blood” (2009) and his very promising four-song EP from earlier this year, “She Stayed As Steam.” These albums alone have solidified him a spot on my must watch artist list.
Now, we have Bad Books, a sweet pairing of the soothing voices of vocalists Devine and Hull. The album begins with a simple, ethereal track entitled “How This All Ends.” This track showcases the voice of Andy Hull, with Devine’s pleasant humming in the background. How does this all end? Why, with a nice crescendo and some fun echo effects, giving the feeling of a performance in the vastness of space.
The second song, “The Easy Mark and the Old Maid”, explores the idea of life and religion. There is some nice piano work here from Chris Freeman to compliment the poignant words well sung by Kevin Devine. This song masks some deep, melancholy words with a happy tone and does so brilliantly.
Next up is “Baby Shoes”, a back and forth beat that I can’t help swaying to, coupled with the voices of both singers and a couple of fun, distorted guitar riffs. Catchy, fun, dark, and stimulates the sense of hearing in a way that should be illegal.
“You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid” reminds me of The Smiths, which is not a bad thing at all. Some simple, yet elegant acoustic guitar work here that relaxes me. This song sounds like a stripped down version of the normal Kevin Devine fare.
The next track is “Holding Down the Laughter.” Is another track, like “Baby Shoes” that had be grooving side to side and almost dancing alone in my room. This song is definitely driven by the great percussion by Ben Homola. On a side note, the beginning of this song, characterized by seemingly out of tune chords, brings to mind the soundtrack of one of my favorite Super Nintendo games, Earthbound.
“You Wouldn’t Have to Ask”, the first single released for the album for free on their Facebook page, is easily the shortest song on the album at a minute fifty-three. It’s also a showcase of the band’s enormous talent musically, as the building guitars, bass, and drums build to a satisfying, if a bit short, end. This song does a lot well in under two minutes and is worth a listen.
The next track, “I Begged You Everything”, seems poised to fill the slow, beautiful, moving song quota for this offering. It will surely remind longtime Manchester Orchestra fans of songs like “Don’t Let Them See You Cry” and is sure to be a great song to witness at a live show. Mostly acoustic, this song is an earnest effort from Andy Hull, with great harmonies from Devine. Sadness tinges Hull’s voice as he sings, “I can remember wishing that the season had lasted a little longer. It don’t and we die. If not me, than to my pride. If not know, then tonight. If not then, we just might give up trying.”
“Please Move” is a welcome change of pace from the last song. An uptempo, building, operatic song, with a great blend of melody and hard, gnashing, bass lines. The instrumentals mesh well with the voices of the two singers and the pacing in this song creates a fantastic aural experience that you’ll surely want to revisit. The song starts with a whisper, builds to a bang, and then quickly exits the scene before you know what hit you.
The first in a series of songs named after a geographical area is “Mesa, AZ”. This song is a fun little number that flirts with the conventions of folk and country that definitely brings to mind it’s namesake in the back home, country feel it gives off. It’s an enjoyable song, but definitely is not the best on the album.
The final song on the album is entitled “Texas”. This is another slower paced song that showcases the smooth, yet somewhat gravelly voice of Andy Hull. With just an acoustic guitar to guide his voice through the river of rhythm, this is a nice closer to a great, yet not overwhelming side project from Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine.
Overall, I would highly recommend you pick this album up. Earlier today, Bad Books posted on Facebook that the album is still available on Amazon.com for $2.99. This deal may not last, but I believe the album is still definitely worth th $7.99 price tag on iTunes. I’m not a big fan of rating systems, but if you’re a fan of either Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra, this is a nice addition to the collection that I will definitely listen to over and over.
While overall, I would say Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine’s individual albums are better than the collective Bad Books album, I really have no negative comments, except, perhaps that with only 10 songs, the album is short and I could not get enough. As Devine has stated he is working on a new solo record, I can’t help thinking that another Bad Books album would be a possibility and, with all the side projects these guys pump out, we could be hearing it sooner, rather than later.
Standout Tracks: “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask”, “Please Move”, “The Easy Mark and the Old Maid”.
I can’t say this enough; support Independent Artists!