REVIEW TIMES TWO: Kevin Devine – ‘Bubblegum’ & ‘Bulldozer’


Artist: Kevin Devine
AlbumsBulldozer Bubblegum
Genre: Indie
Label: Devinyl Records / Favorite Gentleman / Procrastinate!

It would be easy enough to get away with glossing over a Kevin Devine review. Realistically all it takes is tossing 500 buzzwords at a webpage, including phrases like Andy Hull, Jesse Lacey, and Bad Books. If you take the lazy way out you fling a few descriptors like talented, energetic and ginger around and call it a day.

But to really understand the work of Devine, you really have to dig deeper than the surface. Hidden in every album he releases there are educational tools and chances for the listener to grow. Throughout the years there have been nods to politics (“No Time Flat” and “Another Bag of Bones”), personal growth (“Ballgame,” “Cotton Crush” and “Me and My Friend”) and interpersonal skills (“Just Stay,” “Not Over You Yet” and “I Could Be With Anyone.”) The lyrics are presented in a clever and complex form that not only require your attention, but a certain level of commitment. When he sings, he projects as far more of an author than a musician. His songs are chapters and each album represents his newest novel.

Idealistic and emotional, intelligent and carefully presented, he really is the J.D. Salinger of the current indie scene.

Placed in that metaphor, the bookend releases of Bulldozer and Bubblegum becomes Devine’s Catcher in the Rye.

Both albums stand out in equally unique manners against Devine’s impressive and criminally overlooked catalog. The albums walk down different paths to get to the release date. Their pasts are certainly different. Bulldozer comes from the kind of neighborhoods with good schools, nice houses and yard. The streets are well lit and the roads get straight to the point. Bubblegum wasn’t so lucky. It jerks down litter covered side streets thorny trees covering the sidewalks and angry dogs are kept chained in lots with broken fences. Its aggression is evident and it makes you feel as though maybe you should lock your car doors as the reverb and pointed guitar solos swoop through your headphones.

Bubblegum was the album that bullied Bulldozer in high school. It is pissed off and direct with its intelligent and sometimes unpopular points. It isn’t fucking around and it isn’t worried about your feelings.

Its focus is on the blunt and direct truth.

“Private First Class” for example makes light of the irony in Bradley Manning being punished for the immoralities of the American Armed Forces. Devine repeats, “you might wish that you were born a liar” throughout the song, reminding the listener that sometimes telling the truth brings as many problems as turning a blind eye. Placed over edgy and chaotic guitar riffs and rough power-pop style drum structure, the tone of the song matches the intent of the album’s “are you paying attention” demeanor. “Fiscal Cliff” follows suit, approaching an almost punkish vibe as it rants about the current state of our economical position. The album’s title track, “Bubblegum,” paces through straightforward power chords with an energy reminiscent of the ghost of the 1990s. Track for track and song by song, Bubblegum claims its place as a guitar aggressive and riff heavy work of art, as Devine shows off the chops that made Miracle of 86 so special.

This is not to say that Bulldozer is a pushover. Though very different than its release day counterpart, the album has plenty of heart. The album’s opening track highlights Devine’s brilliant mind and quirky viewpoints and approach to life. “Now: Navigate” takes clever jabs at the wedges in living situations. Throughout the track Devine manages to compare an upper-class model to poor, public school kids, and a comet to a taxicab and a vacation to Guantanamo Bay.

Devine also remembers to reminds us of his talents as a wordsmith with lines like “I can’t answer anything honestly without an asterisk, air-quotes and double speak litter the fountain of youth.”  “Little Bulldozer” follows suit, embracing Devine’s Hotel Café style of songwriting. The song spotlights potential of imbalance in a relationship. It shows the blacks and whites and highs and lows of the company you keep, all while possessing elements of the ’90s emo movements.

“From Here,” the album’s third track however is the standout track to me. The song expresses Devine’s heartbreaking reflections of East Coast life shortly following Hurricane Sandy. Devine discusses and expresses his rethinking of how the word “home” is viewed after a disaster. The song is full of pride and strength, in correlation of the sadness that comes with everything changing. The storytelling approach the song takes is the key fundamental that separates Devine from many of the artists in music today. As stated above, it is what makes him more of an author than a singer. The songs have plots, movements and chapters. They’re more than three minutes of nonsense.

It is that vulnerability that makes Devine special. Like Salinger, it is his rawness and honesty that makes him unable to be forgotten. It is why if you look deeply enough and are as honest with yourself as he is with you, you can find yourself somewhere, buried in one of his songs.

That goes deeper than just being about music. At that moment, you become timeless.

Bulldozer rating: 8.5/10
Bubblegum rating: 8/10

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