Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Kevin Devine - Split The Country, Split The Streets

I'll start at the beginning. The main facts that influence this story are these;

1) I love vinyl records, and am on a quest to purchase all of my favourite albums in this format.
2) At my work, after 6pm, everything goes quiet, and my workload decreases in an epic fashion.

You know what, this isn't even the beginning, it's more like the middle, but we'll get where we need to go eventually.

So, recently at work, wikipedia has been my best friend, and it was on wikipedia that i found out that "Split the Country, Split the Streets" and "Make The Clocks Move", two albums by american singer-songwriter Kevin Devine, had been released on vinyl. In the same package no less.

I got excited. And my debit card got scared.

Further reading and research uncovered some important, and some troubling facts. Firstly, it was only released in Germany. This is ok, thought Stef, with a bit of luck and babelfish I'll be able to decipher this cryptic language. However, secondly was the fact that there were only 500 copies pressed. Ever.

My debit card almost melted thinking of how much this record might end up costing me.

As luck would have it, the website of the label who'd pressed the record (Defiance Records) seemed to still have it in stock. Phew. Lots of translating later, and i'd sent an e-mail (in english no less) asking if I could order it (for only 18 euros and postage, not too bad!)

As luck didn't have it, I had an e-mail back stating that they were sorry, but they sold their last copy the week before. Ouch.

As luck still actually had it (it never lost it, to be fair), i had a browse of some of the vinyl distro sites linked from Defiance Records, and jackpot, had it.

Skip forward two weeks to this morning, and i'm skipping towards the door thinking my new phone is being delivered, only to be given a vinyl shaped package to be signed up, covered in German packing tape and stuff. Score!

So. thats the middle of the story. The ending is that i've been listening to "Split the Country, Split the Streets" all day, but let's set the scene and go to the beginning.

I first heard Kevin Devine when I heard that Jesse Lacey, frontman of Brand New, had sung on Devine's track "Cotton Crush". I promptly got hold of the track, and adored it. It's the lead track on "Split the Country" and it builds up to such a brilliant breakdown, that it's become one of those rare songs that i've loved for years without ever getting sick of it. So what of the rest of it's parent album? 

Cotton Crush Live feat Jesse Lacey

After the intense beginning that is "Cotton Crush",  a more straightforward rock affair is found with "Afterparty", a bittersweet love affair of a song that drags you in the amazing "No Time Flat". This is one of the standout tracks on the album, a mid-pace ambling acoustic-rock song that is lyrically amazing, where Devine sings about aging, Iraq and politics, but somehow manages to not sound preachy whilst doing it, which is a pretty impressive feat.

Side A of the record is completed by another two upbeat fuzzy songs, "No-one Else's Problem" (whose catchy "you're no-one else's problem but you sure are mi-i-ne" refrain will be in your head for the next x amount of years) and "Buried By The Buzz".

Side B is a much more intimate affair, with Devine singing quiet acoustic tracks about stealing a wig that remind him of an ex ("Haircut"), and the assumptive thought process that occurs when noticing someone on the "other side of the train" ("Probably"). Devine closes the album with an ode to love ("You are the daybreak") and an open letter regarding religion ("Lord I Know We Don't Talk"), and honestly leaves you wanting to start the album over again.

I think where the record is so effective is that Kevin Devine manages to sing clever lyrics with an emotional voice that verges more towards "passionate" than "whiney", and especially when combined with Jesse Lacey's background shouting on "Cotton Crush", it manages to both impress and inspire at the same time. Elsewhere, it's lyrical couplets like "The quiet can scrape all the calm from your bones, but maybe it should, maybe we need to be hollowed" and "I got a fistful of shattered seashells that scream like soldiers stuck down an oilwell/I saw a bad sign lit up like broadway, and I watched my head spin, and I heard my voice shake "I'm buried by the buzz of a year gone numb"", that just get stuck with you, and really make you stop and think about the words.

With "Split the Country, Split the Streets", Kevin Devine really managed to create an album that manages to tread a line between romance and politics, and it really manages to hit the mark on both subject matters, with a great mix of anthemic heavier tracks, and subtle slower songs. It's an album I highly recommend, purely because in the three years since it was released, I haven't managed to get sick of it. If anything, I think I love it a little bit more.

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