Review: Kevin Devine, ‘We Are Who We’ve Always Been’

Posted 4 months ago by Kyle McCoy

Kevin Devine meanders through genres like they’re a metropolitan park  — stopping to catch charming moments, letting every experience soothe new parts of the soul. From bouncing indie rock to wispy singer-songwriter affairs, he explores new sonic playgrounds while maintaining an identifiable core to his songwriting. Devine’s newest release holds true to this genre-bending playfulness, but with a twist.

For his ninth studio album, Devine reimagines his anthemic Instigator as the contemporary folk album We Are Who We’ve Always Been.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Devine released the indie rock gem Instigator in 2016 through Brand New’s record label Procrastinate! Music Traitors.  Parts philosophical, sociopolitical, and personal, Instigator covers a swath of the human experience in eleven upbeat tracks. We Are Who We’ve Always Been takes those songs and peels away all but guitar and electric piano, leaving Devine and a few special guests exposed and honest.

Stripped to folk’s elements, Devine’s already personal lyrics begin to feel improvisational, diaristic. The existential cries of “No Why” creep into a sleepless night’s ruminations. Political frustrations in “Both Ways”  and “Freddy Gray Blues” get cautiously discussed at a post-election family dinner. Early drafts of “Before You’re Here” pour from a BIC pen into the first page of a baby book. Every word becomes domestic, every story finds a home.

The album’s fresh perspective isn’t its only plus, however. Quality guest features saturate We Are Who We’ve Always Been. Devine’s duet with The Mynabirds on “No One Says You Have To”, airy harmonies from Half Waif on “I Was Alive Back Then”, and Swivs’ work on “Freddy Gray Blues” make for timeless renditions. Truly, We Are Who We’ve Always Been could couple as well with Bright Eyes as it could Jim Croce.

We Are Who We’ve Always Been will undoubtedly be a pleasant surprise both to fans of its progenitor and new fans of Devine’s work. Juxtaposed with Instigator, We Are Who We’ve Always Been induces a dynamic shift, the feeling of walking an unexpectedly sylvan mile in a city you thought you knew. After experiencing the two, it’s hard to say that one would be complete without the other.

We Are Who We’ve Always Been releases on October 20, 2017, through Procrastinate! Music Traitors.