To put it ever-so bluntly: Kevin Devine’s latest record Put Your Ghost To Rest is one of the best records in this genre that I’ve heard since Elliot Smith’s posthumous From A Basement On A Hill. Kevin Devine bursts onto the major-label landscape with this release, his best record to date, in my opinion; and shows that he most assuredly lives up to Alternative Press’ declaration way back in 2004 that he would eventually be an “artist you need to know.” Devine isn’t only an artist you need to know, but also an artist you need to love.
In most cases, Devine tends to draws slight comparisons to luminaries such as Conor Oberst, and the late Elliot Smith quite often; and I am quite comfortable saying that Devine’s name more than deserves to be etched into your mind alongside the aforementioned two. He’s one of few musical troubadours still staying true to the cause in this fading pop star day and age, and he makes some of the most enjoyable, and compelling music to boot, too.
As with his former albums, highlights abound in this release; it almost seems as if a stellar, heartfelt tune rests around every single, grey-lit corner, here. Devine has that almost-cynical, heartbreakingly poetic songwriting style made so famous by Bright Eyes, but seems to have such a knack for musicality that he’s capable of putting those emotions into enjoyable, immensely excellent songs that don’t ramble nearly as much as you’d expect them to.
Devine even has that cracking, disenchanted twenty-something voice that you can’t help but almost fall in love with as you hear his crooning with poignancy. The way he writes a song can’t help but bring you back to those old memories of listening to Either/Or. Devine almost seems like a bastard love child between Josh Rouse, Elliot Smith, and Conor Oberst—yet coming completely into his own all the time, and evolving into something almost better than the sum of it’s parts.
All it takes is to listen to Put Your Ghost To Rest’s opening track “Brooklyn Boy,” and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. And once you pass it, things never seem to let up. To name just a few, “Just Stay” is positively stellar, and the up-beat “Go Haunt Someone Else” is almost worth the admission price, alone.
This is one of the better albums to be released this year, and with a major label behind him, here’s hoping that this release will garner the attention that it most assuredly deserves.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.