REVIEW: Kevin Devine – Between The Concrete and Clouds

Artist: Kevin Devine
Album: Between the Concrete and Clouds
Genre: Indie
Label: Razor & Tie/Favorite Gentlemen Records

Between the Concrete and Clouds, the sixth studio album by Kevin Devine, fashions the same note in minimalistic, acoustic guitar sounds for which he has become noted. The album, while not quite a masterpiece, certainly engages and absorbs with a series of delightfully understated, carefully crafted songs heavy and rich in sound even if they are light on instrumentation. It’s a darling little release, with a searching, introspective tone and some very lovely songs.

“Offscreen” is, in this sense, the perfect introduction. A lone guitar appears and strums along absent-mindedly, later joined by some loose drum work and soft, cautious vocals. The drumming gives it an early momentum, though it remains quite meandering and gentle even when a slightly heavier, more intensive band of music comes in. The instruments converge for a more defined chorus later on, along with some backing vocals. It has a frontier sound, for want of a better way of describing it – thoughtful, fleeting, and slightly dreamlike. It segues into “The First Hit,” which pads out this opening looseness with a bass and more easygoing guitar. The vocals are as before, more decorative than a clear individual strand, adding a careful element of narration to the poppier sound. Light touches of piano complement this, and the music retains a kind of echoing effect that implies detachment, yet deep intensity.

“Sleepwalking Through My Life” keeps everything quite soothing and lethargic, perhaps fittingly for the title. There’s a veiled effect to the delicate guitar notes that sparkle in the background, giving all a sleepy vibe, and the vocals are carefree and casual – occasionally swapping words for humming to better suit the indistinct sound.

These early songs have an almost nursery-like element of fragility and poise to them, never delving too deeply into themselves. Yet, “Awake the Dirt” has a kookier character, with a hint of edge in the swaggering guitar and rhythm that accompany the chorus. “Between the Concrete and Clouds” then charges its guitars properly, making the song a heavier, more striking opus from the off. The sound is electric, the vocals clashing with the sudden fierceness and intent in the instruments – this is particularly vivid during the chorus when everything darkens and roughens in stark contrast to the harmonious singing. This song is beautifully realised, its lilting rhythm and tone adding much more nuance to the record. There’s even a slick and intense breakdown and a triumphant solo after the second chorus, enlivening proceedings immensely.

The second half of the record isn’t quite as interesting as the opening, with some straightforward indie pop type songs that veer just a little too much on the side of the generic. “Wait Out the Wreck” and “The City Has Left You Alone” are two examples – not bad songs in and of themselves, but lacking a certain something. That said, they are juxtaposed next to exquisite exercises in melody and atmosphere such as “11-17,” which peels away all the extra layers and roughness that the title track had added. It’s very ambient and delicate, with an elegant dreamlike sound that never quite takes form. The instruments do become a little firmer as the song progresses, but this sharp exposure only serves to complement how vulnerable and reflective it is. The haunted vocals really suit this style, and the late addition of a string section gives it a poignant, emotional veneer. “A Story, A Sneak” is more spirited and mischievous, its racing drum line adding a pleasing bit of momentum.

“I Used To Be Somone” then ends things exquisitely in a slow-burning, barely-there track that hints at detachment yet feels very intense. The sound effects coursing through the background and repetitious piano thrill that come in later linger vacantly in the background, adding layers of sentiment to the lethargic vocals. There’s something haunted to its sound, and even when everything comes together it remains quite reluctant and restrained.

is perfectly named thus, its title capturing the alternately rough and sensitive sides to its character. It’s not a groundbreaking release but it does create a rich, involving sound and its better songs are nothing short of delightful. It’s an album of individual standouts, as opposed to collected brilliance, but it is a very enjoyable listen and ought to keep long time fans very happy.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

Checkout the video for “Off-Screen”

James Shotwell
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