Album Review: Bubblegum -Kevin Devine

In a world full of voices all clamoring to be heard, Kevin Devine’s is rising just a little bit louder than the rest.

The 33 year old Brooklyn native has been getting bigger and bigger in the indie singer/songwriter world since the release of his first album, Make the Clocks Move, in 2004, winning audiences over with his blend of introspective acoustic songs and more dissonant and charged political indie folk rock. Through six albums, he has honed his style, and when Between the Concrete and Clouds was released in 2011 to critical acclaim, most called it his best and most polished effort yet. Sure enough, the album is beautifully balanced and attuned to his strengths; a great showcase.

But Kevin Devine was only just getting started.

About a year ago, he utilized Kickstarter to see how much of a demand there would be for the creation of two new albums, as well as to ask for crowd funding so that it could be made completely label free. He reached his goal in 24 hours. Now we’re getting the final product of that, two albums recorded and released simultaneously – a solo effort named Bulldozer and an album with his Goddamn Band called Bubblegum.

I’ll tackle them one at a time, starting with Bubblegum.

The gist you get from Bubblegum’s first tracks is something like…well, someone’s a little ticked.

Kevin has never shied away from rocking out, but here he crafts an entire album of intense, charged, and fast paced rock songs. The first half is as openly political as he’s ever been, attacking the government for their handling of Chelsea Manning with “Private First Class.” Brilliantly undercutting the sadness and seriousness of the topic with a chorus of “Well, you might’ve wished you’d been born a liar.” Lighting a fire under the technology generation hiding behind their laptops in “Fiscal Cliff”, Devine scolds society for doing nothing but “talking sh** on the 1%” because “that isn’t gonna get you anywhere!” These songs are incendiary, utilizing cut time, punk structure and Devine’s usual dissonant guitar while Kevin’s lyrics create a true rallying cry. Other tracks like “I Can’t Believe You” or the title track “Bubblegum” deal with more typical introspective subject matter – but the music is totally revamped, often transcending genres into grunge and alt punk pop. “She Can See You” starts out like a Nirvana B side before speeding up into something dangerous and catchy and “Bloodhound” sounds as earnest as the best of Weezer. On Bubblegum, Kevin might be not be deviating from his usual wheelhouse, but he’s bolstered his sound to a degree that we’ve definitely not seen from him before.

This album wouldn’t be what it is without the awesome work done by his “Goddamn Band” – Mike Fadem on drums and Mike Strandberg on guitar – but the biggest contributor to this new look might be producer Jesse Lacey (of Brand New). He also takes over bass and percussion for the album composing a solid foundation that is a big part of the overall tone. You can bet this is Lacey’s doing. The centerpiece of the album, the six minute epic “Redbird” is experimental in a way that feels inspired by some of the cuts from Brand New’s own The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. “Redbird” ebbs and flows, then builds to a crescendo that washes over you in the feedback and distortion and the wail of Devine’s voice. It’s the longest song on the album and the most challenging – but given the chance it will hook you and never let go, like the majority of these songs.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us here, at the birth of Mr. Devine’s career. Because as his name has gotten bigger and bigger, it’s gotten that way without doing anything like Bubblegum. He’s always been one to whisper. Now he’s shouting at you, daring you to take notice. With albums like this, I really hope people do.

See you next time for Bulldozer!

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