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‘Instigator!’ is Kevin Devine’s Political Pop Masterpiece

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So, Kevin Devine has been at this whole making music thing for a while now. His is a name that I can say, without hyperbole, has been in my line of sight for the last decade or so that I have existed on the internet. Bubblegum and Bulldozer were my White Rabbit; my first and, at best, passive foray into the world he’s spent so much of his life creating. In that respect, I would consider the Devinyl Split series my encounter(s) with the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar. They were a source of intrigue and a reason to journey onward into whatever was to come next. In comes Instigator!

Instigator! is my Mad Hatter; the character that I’ve spent the most time with. This is an album packed to the brim with hooks that soar and a political bite, which work in tandem to create the kind of political-pop record the world needs in 2016. This is best captured with the plucky & incredible power-pop introduction to record, “No Why.”  To shroud talk of a world that’s stopped asking for reason and has accepted the cyclical sickness of humanity with something so bouncy and immediate isn’t exactly a new tactic, it’s one that I would argue Devine does best. He’s able to paint such vivid and haunting imagery with his lyrics, and does so with hooks that seem to embed themselves into the furthermost corners of your brain.

The way this attitude spills over into the rest of this record is remarkable, as this same energy is present throughout. The beauty of this album comes from the different ways we’re introduced to it all. There’s the violence buried in the dangerously catchy hook of the album’s namesake, overwhelmingly somber power of a song like “Freddie Gray Blues”, and the deeply personal and reflective nature of “No History”, and none of this comes across as the least bit disingenuous.

Instigator! gives us the chance to see the way another human being is dealing with the horrors that surround us on a daily basis without sugarcoating, but that’s not all it is. Songs like “Magic Magnet” and “Day Drunk” are some of the best bonafide, capital P, pop songs that have come out this year. Honestly, “Day Drunk” should win an award for being some of the most #relatable #content of the year, because who can’t relate to a chorus comprised of “Day Drunk is what I wanna be / when I’m tired / Day Drunk is what I wanna be / when I’m tired of being free.”

This album really could have just been one song and it would have won me over. I’m left a puddle of emotional bullshit whenever I listen to “No One Says You Have To”, a song which I have lovingly dubbed Kevin Devine’s “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. It’s an acoustic song with some of the most beautiful guitar playing that I’ve ever heard, and Kevin’s voice works as this tool of pure emotion. From the start of “I get caught in simple phrases”, I’m basically done. Few songs have resonated with me in a way that this one has, and this is something for me that I know will be bigger than Instigator! and will be a song that I cherish for years to come, regardless of where this album eventually settles into. I can’t do it the justice it deserves, so please just listen to it.

I didn’t expect a record that is so deeply rooted in the anger and sadness that comes from bearing witness to the terrifyingly real tragedies that surround us to find it’s way to me this year, but I’m glad it did. With Instigator!, Kevin Devine has managed to take his incredible knack for crunchy power-pop and brilliant command of language to create a record that is so deeply moving without feeling to heady. These are the pop songs charged with a state of discontent. It’s the political pop record you need to hear in 2016. I mean it.

Instigator! is out on October 21st. Pre-order your copy here

This was posted 9 months ago by Joel Funk.
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