Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kevin Devine - Between the Concrete and Clouds

Remember the long lost days of throwing a baseball around with your father at the neighborhood ballpark? You'd start off with a casual catch, dad's eyes twinkling at your ever-improving form. Then it was onto infield practice, the perfect excuse to get dirty whilst trying to imitate the sprawling web-gems of your favorite major-leaguers. As late afternoon became evening, your final test of the night ensued: batting practice. And with each pitch that dad lobbed over the plate, you swung as if that 400-foot fence was an attainable feat - clink! Foul ball. Then, quickly resetting and refocusing, another pitch - clink! Foul. Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth attempts followed in much the same way, with subsequent pings from the bat marking foul ball upon foul ball. Finally giving into the mounting frustration, the bat falls to the dirt along with hope and self-esteem. Your inability to achieve as desired seems such a major pitfall, until the feel of that fatherly embrace on that shoulder preceded the words you'd heard many a time before: "It's alright, son. At least you're consistent."

Ten year old me loathed that word. As far as I could distinguish, consistent meant not good enough and not getting what you wanted. Even between licks of the ice cream cone that followed, its three syllables rang out over and over in my brain - irritating, disappointing, and most of all, befuddling young me. In my naivety, and just as anyone at that age might have done, I failed to see anything more than the adjective's fatalistic side. But throw a few flaky relationships along with the disbandments of Snowing and American Football in between then and now, and the significance of consistency slowly revealed itself. So much so, in fact, that the very idea of consistency has cemented itself as one of life's most rewarding endeavors. Now, to be consistent is to be productive. And to be Kevin Devine is to be consistent.

With Between the Concrete and Clouds standing as his sixth full-length effort, supplemented by an intermittent plethora of smaller releases all along the way, Devine is further proving his unfailing ability to write fantastic songs and smoothly flowing records. Though BtC&C is the first Devine album to be recorded fully alongside his (goddamn) band, all of the charm and intimacy in his songwriting remains. Furthermore, the constant presence of a backing band this time around lends a noticeably cohesive feel to the entire record, much like that found on the premier tracks of Brother's Blood. However, it's hard not to notice, try as I might, that there is a certain divide standing between this and his last LP. Here, certain opportunities are missed, or perhaps even ignored. Where former tracks like 'Carnival' and 'Brother's Blood' showed an impressive new ability to layer instrumentation upon vocals upon more distant instrumentation, all the tracks here seem to remain relatively localized. Much unlike my father back on the baseball diamond, Devine seems awfully reluctant to raise his voice on BtC&C. It's almost as if a more mature and learned K.D. no longer feels the need to shout both at and for himself to relieve discontentment and discomfort. When he belts out "Calm down, you'll be alright!" on 'A Story, A Sneak', one can't help but assume that the command is self-directed. For as nice as it is to see and hear him feeling more at peace, there was a lot of allure to be had in such a bothered, thunderously ambitious track as 'Another Bag of Bones'.

Though the feral delight of some former lyrical work isn't quite attained on Between the Concrete and Clouds, Devine still puts forth a collection of exceptional tracks that aren't too easily forgotten. Closer 'I Used To Be Someone' showcases some of his best songwriting to date, whereas the title track quickly calls to mind everything that there is to love about K.D. in its well-crafted verses leading seamlessly into a vocal-intensive chorus. As Devine ponders about his uncertainty in faith and religion, he reveals a great deal of lyrical influence from buds and former tour-mates Jesse Lacey and Andy Hull. His band here can't be ignored either, consistently pulling each track together and tying off some of K.D.'s former loose ends.

If one last word can be used to describe Between the Concrete and Clouds, it'd have to be 'refreshing' - refreshing in its ability to remind us all that even though the Kinsella brothers can call it quits and Noah and the Whale can release crap like Last Night On Earth, Kevin Devine and his troupe will continue to put out solid, heartfelt records. Even when you can wake up next to someone who suddenly no longer feels the same, it's comforting and revitalizing to know that some things don't have to change. Much like that baseball diamond, still there but much more vacant these days, BtC&C is a reminder that not all good is eventually lost. Rather, some good things just stay good. Consistently good.

Stream the full album on AOL, here.

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