Artist: Bad Books
Genre: Indie Rock/Pop
Label: Favorite Gentlemen
I’ve never been a man with little to say about the things that I am passionate about. Therefore, explaining to you exactly why Bad Books works in 750 words or less borders on being damn near impossible. Hell, if we’re being honest, I’d struggle to just fit my Kevin Devine gushing into that stipulation without tossing Manchester Orchestra into the mix. Their marriage of music manages to mold the finest aspects of two of the leading front runners to wear the title of indie-angst darling. Laced with an essential balance of witty tongue-in-cheek storytelling and deep depressing bits of self-loathing, II is flawless in its approach to the listener. However, this can be said of nearly every project both Devine and Andy Hull have touched. Devine and his God Damn Band are approaching a decade of excellence while Hull has dropped albums with all three of his projects, Manchester Orchestra; Right Away, Great Captain; and Bad Books within a two year period.
Their jobs obviously do not offer vacation time.
But then again, why take time off when you can write tracks like “Pytor”? Featuring qualities of Hull at his absolute best and nestled deep in the vein of Right Away, Great Captain, “Pytor” tugs the heart strings through a tragically beautiful retelling of the story regarding Peter the Great’s discovery of his wife’s affair with Willem Mons. Rumor has it that Peter had discovered his wife Catherine smitten for her personal secretary, causing him to call for Mons’ execution. Once carried out, Peter requested that the head be placed in a jar of alcohol and placed in the tower museum. Catherine, per the request of her enraged husband, was required to spend an allotted amount of time with Mons’ head as punishment for straying from her marriage. Hull, who might be the best storyteller in the game right now, collects the details of this earmark in history and spins it into a beautiful duet between Peter and the head in a jar. While yes, I understand that description might sound a little off kilter in reality, it works in the most flawless of ways. The heartbreaking lyrics spawn two candid stories confessing their different loves for one woman. Just cryptic enough to keep the listener guessing the plotline, the song is among the most intelligent I have ever heard. It alone makes the album worth the cost.
That is not to say that the remaining ten tracks on II are phoned in.
“Never Stop” for example possess the best lyrics on the album. Devine spends three minutes reflecting on his infinity with a situation and the conflict it has on his life. With his signature ten cent phrases and intense sentence structure, KD does his best tribute to Elliott Smith, slinging poetic one-liners like “copy after copy ‘til the color washed out” and “I bet the future on an ice cream cone.” Constantly reminded that love and desire doesn’t always equate healthy decisions, Devine points out the flaws in the new car smell that comes with the temporary arrangements of people we meet. His views on life are often unique and this is never more properly presented as in this song.
The theme of healthy adult decisions verses emotionally-based reactions runs ramped through the album. “Forest Whitaker” seems to focus on watching the lives of someone else moving on without the narrator. “The After Party” also slips comfortably into this wheelhouse. However, the two songs take completely different approaches to their presentation. Dark and haunting in its nature, “The After Party” takes on that atmospheric, Manchester Orchestra look, while “Forest Whitaker” remains upbeat and manipulative in its sound. Upon first listen, one could overlook the true nature of its meaning in a way very similar to how The Eels approached “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues.” If you fail to pay attention, you could mistake the song for just another happy pop song.
Throughout the eleven track album, the band hits on every aspect of what makes them what they are. Fans of any of the projects attached to them will be pleased with the outcome of the second installation of Bad Books. The growth steps they have taken to interweave the talents of both Devine and Hull are well represented and have resulted in an extremely noticeable improvement. This is mind bending due to the fact that Bad Books has very little need for growth.
Consider this album not just a success but a new bar set for the whole of these guys’ already epic careers.
Review written by: Joshua Hammond