Album Review: Bad Books collaboration ain't so bad after all

Album ReviewBad Books★★★★

Digitally released on Oct. 19, Bad Books' self-titled debut album is the collaborative effort of singer/songwriter Kevin Devine and the members of indie rock group Manchester Orchestra.

Devine met and befriended Manchester Orchestra while touring with Brand New in spring 2007, and the two played over 100 shows together since; a few performances were under the handle The G-ddamn Orchestra - a play on Devine's full band moniker, Kevin Devine and the G-ddamn Band. Upon meeting, Devine and Manchester frontman Andy Hull made a pact to one day make music together. Three years later, Bad Books was born with the help of backup Manchester members Robert McDowell, Chris Freeman and Jonathan Corley alongside good friend and drummer Ben Homola.

Though Bad Books seems at first like a side project of both Devine and the boys of Manchester, they have assured during recent interviews and shows that this is not the case. "We are not a one-time thing, and since the beginning of deciding to be a band [we knew] we aren't gonna be just a band that has one record," Hull said at the band's Oct. 20 sold out debut concert at New York's Bowery Ballroom.

The album's 10 tracks showcase the diverse musical talents within the group; Devine and Hull split up the lyrical duties equally with five songs apiece. The division of the songs, however, does not hinder the ability of the two parties to fit together cohesively. The songs transition seamlessly over the 35 minutes of the album.

Devine's acoustic styling is complimented by the rock riffs commonly found on Manchester records and accented by the songwriting abilities of Hull, who has his own acoustic solo project: Right Away, Great Captain! Though some songs are easily identifiable with each of the separate artists - folksy ballads like "Mesa, AZ" come courtesy of Devine while bolder fare like "Please Move" is distinctively Manchester - most convey the collective talents within the band.

The vocal harmonies of Devine and Hull showcased on the album's opener "How This All Ends" and quirky pop tune "Baby Shoes" will speak to the love longtime fans have for the sounds of both artists while attracting new listeners. Two contrasting tracks, "Holding Down the Laughter" and "You're a Mirror I Cannot Avoid," present the perfect synthesis of the group's members. Where "Laughter" showcases the uncanny alt-rock sound of Manchester layered over Devine's vocals, "Mirror" emphasizes Devine's honest lyrics highlighted by a soft guitar and the Theremin-style synthesizer sounds of Freeman.

As musicians, both Hull and Devine have the power to quiet a packed club with just their voice and an acoustic guitar, and the marriage of their abilities is the record's most valuable asset. The release is a must-listen for fans of Devine and Manchester, and non-fans should also check it out.

The album will be physically released on CD and vinyl formats Nov. 9 through Manchester Orchestra's label, Favorite Gentlemen Recordings. For more information and tour dates, check out