Indie collaboration is subpar to solo albums

When a Kevin Devine/Manchester Orchestra side project was announced, I was like a kid in the proverbial candy shop. Their partnership began long before their new super group Bad Books, while they were both touring with Brand New and Glassjaw. They would cover each others’ songs, write new songs together, and perform with each other on stage. Their side project, Bad Books, released a self titled album on yesterday.

The album opens with a slow and melodic tune called “How This All Ends.” The Manchester Orchestra influence is evident, both in vocal arrangement and lyrical content, with an especially catchy chorus.

It’s follow up is “The Easy Mark & The Old Maid,” the first song on the album written Kevin Devine. Kevin’s touch on this song is also laid back and melodic with an evident focus on a folk sound.

Bad Books features 10 songs in total, five written by Kevin Devine and five written by Andy Hull, on an alternating basis. The direction they took with this album varies from acoustic folk, to indie rock, to alternative.

Simple guitar chords, light percussion, and even an occasional tambourine add to the musical creativity of the album, and while the arrangement of the music is not complex, it comes together in a beautiful way.

The problem with side projects and super groups has always been the lack of originality. Often times, the songs simply sound like rip-offs from past successful albums by the bands.

While the originality on Bad Books may not be incredibly noticeable, there are some key unique tracks on the album.

One of the first singles, “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask”, is just two minutes in length, but feels like an old Weezer track, while “Baby Shoes” sounds like an indie take on an early Nirvana hit. It is obvious that both artists attempted to shake things up and put a new spin on their work.

My favorite song on the album is “Mesa, AZ” written by Kevin Devine. There is simplicity to its sound, yet the lyrics are deep and anything but simple, something ardent Kevin Devine fans know all too well. Devine’s clever, and often politically driven feelings, have once again come through in the form of brilliant music.

While Bad Books as a whole sounds like nothing more than a bunch of leftover Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra tracks from previous albums, there is a subtle uniqueness to the music. Both artists have come together to provide enjoyable music with varying influences.

It isn’t often that two of our generation’s greatest indie song writers collaborate on an album as good as this. It is definitely something all fans of either band, as well as fans of indie music in general, should check out.

Bad Books have scheduled a four-night East coast tour where they will perform songs from the album, as well as songs from Hull’s other side project, Right Away, Great Captain, starting on Oct. 20.

John Lopiano can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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