Plumbiferous Media

Bad Books – Bad Books

Oct 28th 2010
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Bad Books - Bad BooksBad Books
Bad Books
Score: 85

Indie group Bad Books, made up of solo artist Kevin Devine and the members of Atlanta band Manchester Orchestra, released their first album on Tuesday after forming earlier this year. The band combines the styles of its two sources of talent well, creating an ambient-edged indie folk that is simultaneously rich and elegant. The self-titled Bad Books is a solid album, and an impressive debut for the group.

Bad Books uses an impressive range of instrumental sounds, from the slow, continuous line under “How This All Ends” to the louder, guitar- and bass- heavy surroundings of “Please Move,” to create the variety of musical approaches they introduce on their debut. It’s occasionally near-jarring when the band switches so drastically between sounds – but Bad Books is good enough at each of the styles, and each track comes so quickly into its own that it’s never a problem. As such, Bad Books alternately invokes folk, indie, and rock with equal skill, creating a varied and yet cohesive sound.

Kevin Devine is the very essence of a archetypal folk vocalist, and it shows. His voice is not, however, generic. Instead, Devine does folk well, imbuing the slightly scratchy, plaintive sound of his voice with emotion. That emotion generally comes off best when in the melancholy range – Devine may be a decent vocalist, but his successful emotional range isn’t much wider than the (admittedly small) average range for his genre – but when it does work, which is quite often across Bad Books, it meets the music in such a way as to make everything work.

Lyrically, Bad Books is nothing short of excellent. Devine proves himself an excellent writer just about everywhere on the album. Take, for example, “Baby Shoes,” which paraphrases the famous 6-word Hemingway story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” working from there into a beautifully bitter track which Devine orchestrates perfectly. Then there’s “You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid,” one of the most verbally rich tracks on Bad Books, where Devine strings together such unorthodox but oddly insightful metaphors as “You’re a mirror I cannot avoid / Strung out and jittery and paranoid / A leaky battery that can’t keep charged.” As a whole, Bad Books lyrics are just great – a lovingly assembled group of stories behind Manchester Orchestra’s musical stylings.

Bad Books isn’t without flaws – but given how small those flaws are, and given that this is a debut album for the group, it’s pretty impressive. The band has done a commendable job applying their considerable musical experience to Bad Books‘ mix of tracks, creating an album that is, as a whole, both interesting and simply enjoyable to listen to. Vocals, instruments, and extremely well-written stories come together to create an album that leaves us excited for Bad Books’ next step, whatever that may be.

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