Kevin Devine and Andy Hull share a mutual love for literal lyrics and punchy power pop, so a collaboration between the two seasoned indie vets almost seemed inevitable. Bad Books, which pairs the duo with Hull’s Manchester Orchestra cohorts, is the perfect vehicle for two artists who share such common musical ground. Not quite Manchester Orchestra and not exactly a retread of Devine’s solo work, it’s a marriage of both, with the two acts meeting in the middle like a musical Venn diagram.
II, the aptly titled second offering from the indie supergroup, doesn’t stray too far from the roots of its 2010 self-titled predecessor, which split the difference between subtle singer/songwriter meditations and pumped-up power pop in the vein of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. As a side project, there’s little pressure to build on or outdo the band’s debut this time around, and II’s relaxed willingness to stay the course ultimately serves it well.
“The After Part” leads things off with a combination of bendy, low register guitars and atmospheric background noise, coupled with Devine’s distressed protest that “it’s good to be alone.” “Forest Whitaker” marries the band’s penchant for indie pop with synth and electronics, calling to mind a less paranoid-sounding version of Grandaddy, while “Pytor” muses quietly about a messy love triangle over a subtle guitar (“When he found us in the western wing sleeping/ You cried at all the things you thought he would do/ And I’ll tell you in the heat of the scuffle/ Nobody takes my eyes off of you”).
With Devine and Hull sharing songwriting and vocal duties, it would be easy for one to step on the other’s toes. But II feels like a collaboration in the purest sense. Two friends making music– what a concept.
Essential Tracks: “The After Part”, “Pytor”