My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There are really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!
Influences are an important facet to consider when analyzing art, particularly music. As the impersonal and rigid business model of major labels has continued to produce less and less profit, thousands of musicians have resorted to atypical practices to release their work. As such, the modern music fan has become a pilgrim within the vast expanse of the musical landscape, with more songs than ever to sort through, and potentially champion. On it’s own, this is a seemingly monumental task. Just how exactly do you sift through the ‘shit’ bands to find the ‘good’ ones? More and more the RIYL has become a point estimator, while conversely the notion of finite genres has fallen to the wayside. It is simply too hard to label bands within a one-size fits all genre in the modern era, especially when considering their influences or even their progression over time. For instance, my local Sunrise Records has All Time Low’s latest release situated within the Punk section. Hopefully this indicates just how useless, and subjective, genres have become. This weeks Double Feature exemplifies the rise of not only the RIYL but of peer recommendations as well. Dan was introduced to Kevin Devine through AP users, who were most likely turned onto him by Jesse Lacey. Dan in turn recommended Kevin to me, showing me Cotton Crush, featuring the aforementioned and often heralded Lacey. Years later, it was I, not Dan who chose Devine’s latest release for the Double Feature. Conversely, I had attempted to turn Dan onto Transit after Stay Home started received a healthy does of hype, with Blake Solomon’s review comparing the band to Lifetime and newer Crime In Stereo. Unfortunately, it didn’t take. I wasn’t able to persuade Dan to give Transit a solid listen. However, the AP hype machine seemingly swayed Dan, because he ironically suggested we give Listen and Forgive a spin for this weeks Double Feature. Although this occurrence seems fairly unremarkable, its un-remarkability is what makes it remarkable. Almost every true music fan has a story like ours, a fellow pilgrim showing us a particular lay of the land that we may or may not have ever discovered. This communication of tastes is the foundation of our community, for without our discussion we are nothing. This is true for all of us: listeners, industry insiders and the artists themselves. As the conversation continues, our pilgrim nation is able to further discover this great land in which we find ourselves situated. As Transit reminds us ‘We grow into those sadder songs, and we leave our love behind in every single line’. It’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.
Kevin Devin – Between the Concrete and Clouds [Ethan's Choice]
Dan: Like Ethan mentioned, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Devine for quite some time now. Since “Split The Country…” I’ve been pretty consistently impressed with his music. Most notably, I found that his 2009 album “Brother’s Blood” was one of my favorites of that year. It had everything that I had come to expect from a Kevin Devine album plus a new heavier, grungy sound. Songs like “I Could Be With Anyone” and the title track were just great. Coming into this album, I was hoping that Kevin would just go for that sound even more, but I was left disappointed. Sadly, “Between the Concrete and Clouds” is a step backward in my eyes.
The record begins with “Off-Screen,” a serviceable, if slightly underwhelming, introduction to the album. Yes, it’s got a fairly catchy chorus but it lacks anything that makes it truly stand out. “The First Hit” comes next and it’s more of a traditional ‘Kevin Devine’ song. It has an even catchier chorus than the previous song, and it reminds me of why I liked Kevin in the first place. “Sleepwalking Through My Life” is a weaker song that meanders along at a fairly uninteresting mid-tempo and is one that I rarely find myself coming back to. “Awake In The Dirt” is another song that I wasn’t particularly fond of. It’s in the same vein as “Fever Moon” (easily my least favorite song off of “Brother’s Blood), with a laid-back jazz-y feel that I really didn’t connect with.
I feel like I’m more of a fan of the second half of the album than the first. The title track is one of the highlights. It’s sharp and interesting lyrics show off the unconventional – and oftentimes quite interesting – nature of Kevin’s songwriting. “11-17” is one of the slower tracks, and I don’t find myself coming back to this one very often either. The last four songs are the best section of the album. “Wait Out The Wreck” and “A Story, A Sneak” are both very reminiscent of older Kevin Devine and are probably my two favorite songs on the album. They are nice, catchy, slightly up-tempo jams that I would recommend to any fan of his previous work. “The City Has Left You Alone” is another above-average song but it’s not one of my personal favorites. “I Used To Be Someone” is another one of the best. It starts off slow but finally builds into a “Brother’s Blood”-esque ending portion complete with crunchy guitars and ‘woah-oh’s.’ It is exactly the direction I had hoped Kevin would go in on this album. If more of the album had been like this, I would have been a huge fan of it. Unfortunately, I was left slightly underwhelmed. It is not a bad record by any means, but after releasing such a great record merely two years before, I was hoping for more.
Favorite tracks: A Story A Sneak, Wait Out The Wreck, I Used To Be Someone
Ethan:If Jesse Lacey is the Jesus of our post-Devil and God¬ landscape, then Kevin Devine is undeniably our Joseph. AbsolutePunk acclaim notwithstanding, Kevin Devine remains one of the most underrated artists in our scene, yet he has influenced not only the aforementioned Lacey, but also resident songsmith Andy Hull. Sadly, unless opening for Thrice or Brand New, Devine never seems to have much draw outside of the New England region or, seemingly, the occasional college crowd. Although, I am admittedly unfamiliar with his back catalogue, Kevin has apparently been releasing consistently good music since his debut in 2002. I can believe this when considering songs like ‘Brooklyn Boy’, ‘No Time Flat’ or his 2009 release Brothers Blood, the latter of which I thought lived up to it’s surrounding AP hype. However, for his consistency, Kevin is an artist that often gets lost in the shuffle. With his consistency comes the fact that he rarely wows. He came close on Brothers Blood, with the records second half in particular holding my attention. However, Between the Concrete and the Clouds is a step back. Despite its obvious grunge undertones, this album is quite subdued, lacking the bite found on Brothers title track or “Another Bag of Bones”. Although the guitars are distorted, the production is quite clean and Between the Concrete and the Clouds comes off as a straightforward indie rock record. Again, though, Kevin is a consistent artist and this album contains more than a handful of songs worth hearing.
Opener “Off-Screen” is a grower, displaying the aforementioned grunge influence in the Devine’s background harmonies, as well as hints of alt. country in the distorted lapsteel. Regardless, the song is catchy, with the chorus providing a pay off for the more subdued verses. “The First Hit” is reminiscent of older Devine, with wordy verses filled with a political/religious undertone. Again, though, the chorus is quite infectious. On this record Devine’s song writing is akin to Fountains of Wayne, albeit a rougher version of the quartet. This man simply knows how to write interesting, slightly atypical, pop music. This comparison holds for “Sleepwalking Through My Life”. However, there are a few missteps on Between. “Awake in the Dirt” is nothing particularly special, and “11-17” feels longwinded with its droning bass and swirling keys. However, “Wait Out the Wreck” helps the album return to form. Finally, the title track and “The City Has Left You Alone” showcase Devine’s brilliance, with the former toeing the line between Devine’s Cobain-esque pop sensibilities and clever but catchy lyricism. The latter is quite simply a great ‘Kevin Devine’ song, showing how at the end of the day Devine is a smart musician who knows is best when he doesn’t stray too far from the path. The bridge in particular is classic Devine, and is reminiscent of Brothers Blood b-side. Although this album’s staying power is debatable, Kevin is an artist who doesn’t necessarily need to wow on ever release. Rather, his legacy will lie in the good to great songs on every album, and whether these songs get attention in a live setting. I don’t doubt that live many of these songs would translate well. While every scene needs a firebrand (Brand New), every firebrand needs an influence from which to draw not only inspiration not only to progress but to continue. If nothing else, every band should hope to have a career like Devine’s. Nearly a decade in and he has yet to dramatically falter. Take that, Daisy.
Favorite tracks: Title track, The City Has Left You Alone, The First Hit
Transit – Listen and Forgive [My Choice]
Dan: Wow, I just love this album. As Ethan mentioned previously, he had tried to get me to listen to this band forever but I had never given them a chance. Maybe I should listen to him more often? Maybe….
The record opens with “You Can’t Miss It (It’s Everywhere).” From the get-go, I got a strong TAYF-era Taking Back Sunday vibe from this album and it lasted throughout. As mentioned in the staff review on this site, these lyrics are just begging to be posted as angsty Facebook statuses. The line, from the first track, ‘and it seems I only have two speeds, two much too soon, or not enough’ is a good example. I’m pretty sure I tweeted that line some night when I was feeling particularly angst-ridden….soooo ya. The next three songs are all great as well. “Listen and Forgive” is probably my favorite song on the album. I absolutely love the last half of the song with the back and forth vocals and the ‘just take it all in….’ lines. I would pay a lot of money to see just that one song live. “All Your Heart” is another great song. Patrick Stump shows up to make a cameo in the latter portion of the song and he helps to make it another standout. Yes, the lyrics aren’t particularly good or complex, but sometimes you just want some straightforward, catchy jams to sing along to.
The two weakest songs on the record, “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Cutting Corners” come next. It’s not that they are bad songs; I just love everything else so much more that I tend to skip these to get straight to the stellar last half of the album. “Skipping Stone” is the obligatory acoustic slow song and it fits nicely in the middle of the album. The next two, “I Think I Know You” and “Don’t Make A Sound,” are two of my favorites, with the latter easily being the catchiest song on the album. “1978” is sure to be a fan favorite, and it’s got some of the best Facebook-worthy lyrics of the whole thing. “Over Your Head” is another standout. The lyrics are very basic but super relatable and honest. Finally, “The Answer Comes in Time” ends the album on a relatively tame note. I expected something a lot more musically epic to close the album, but putting it last makes sense lyrically. It is a nice, if not amazing, send off to a great album.
Favorite tracks: Listen and Forgive, Don't Make A Sound, Over Your Head
Ethan: Although I had enjoyed Transit’s previous releases Stay Home and Keep This To Yourself, I found the band to be the Kevin Devine’s of the pop-punk revival; solid musicians, who knew how to write good songs with the occasional flash of brilliance. In my opinion, they didn’t have the ability to surpass more popular revival bands like Set Your Goals or Four Year Strong, who at this point were still considered ‘legit’ by the Warped Tour crowd. Nothing gold can stay, though. Set Your Goals released the disappointing Burning at Both Ends and attempted to start a Twitter beef with staffer Thomas Nassiff. Four Year Strong retooled their sound for a mainstream audience, in the end becoming little more than a Foo Fighters cover band. And so the pop-punk revival found itself short two flagship bands. It has become apparent though, that there isn’t a lack of successors. A new class has emerged. In particular, the same fans alienated by FYS and SYG have embraced Fireworks, Transit, and the Wonder Years. With Listen and Forgive, though, Transit has proved that they cannot fill the gaps left by Four Year Strong or Set Your Goals. Rather, they have surpassed the benchmarks established by either band and are destined for greater things.
Transit has a tendency to start strong and while “You Can’t Miss It” is by no means “Stay Home” or “Dear: Anyone:” it showcases how comfortable Transit is in the niche they’ve carved for themselves. Everything is perfectly in sync. I can’t even point out a specific pairing because the band is just so efficient. The next three songs help make the record’s first half a juggernaut. From the bittersweet harmonies lacing the chorus of “Long Lost Friends”, to the intricate guitar work and fantastic chorus on the album’s title track to the goddamn Patrick Stump cameo in “All Your Heart” every single song is fantastic, setting a bar that is not easily surpassed by the records latter half. However, the latter songs are quite strong as well. The imagery of a lost summer in “Asleep at the Wheel” verses shows the bands Death Cab for Cutie influence, as well as the bands ability to write mid-tempo songs. This is diametrically opposed by the pop-punky “Cutting Corners”, proving that Transit is able to apply their substantial skill to style that is often redundant.
As with any record, though, some songs are better than others. Though Dan seemed to really enjoy “I Think I Know You”, I find it to be an average song reminiscent of Keep This to Yourself’s though it has a couple good parts. The same can be said for “Don’t Make a Sound”. However “1978” ends this slump, and “Over Your Head” is a key track. Finally, although “The Answer Comes in Time” is no “Love…” Joe’s final words of “That’s just the story of life” make it apparent just how much this band honestly gives a shit about what they’re saying. This point is evident through out Listen and Forgive and while SYG and FYS have their sights set on crossover success, I can’t help but hope that Transit does nothing but continue to perfect their intricate, and extremely passionate style of music. As veterans like Thrice and Thursday bow out, the scene needs a shoulder to rest on, and Transit may very well be it.
Favorite tracks: Listen and Forgive, Lost Friends, All Your Heart