Kevin Devine
Nothing's Real, So Nothing's Wrong



by Zack Lorenzen CONTRIBUTOR (26 Reviews)
September 10th, 2022 | 3 replies

Release Date: 03/25/2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Never certain which is the lie: the elegance of Kevin Devine, or the agony

In his two-decade career, Kevin Devine has toured with several of the most indie-famous rock artists of his generation and built the connections to spawn a multitude of collaborative side projects with them, from he and Andy Hull’s Bad Books act to a comprehensive, ongoing series of splits with legends such as David Bazan, Mike Kinsella, John K. Samson, Craig Finn, and more. In a sense, Devine is a musical chameleon, well-connected and adaptable enough to slot into the role of a sensible opening act for riffers and modern-day folk poets alike. His extensive body of solo work bears the best and worst of that dichotomy as well; at its least impressive, he’s just another dude with a guitar waxing poetically about the wonder and dread of everyday life. But at its most impressive, he’s capable of truly dazzling; hear “Brother’s Blood” once and you’ll be thoroughly confused how the man hasn’t blown up in popularity to the extent his longtime compatriots have.

Alas, the monkey’s paw curls. There are risks to being a musical chameleon, chief among them that you might just blend in so well with your surroundings no one really notices you’re present. To his credit, Devine might prefer it that way; “everyone I know who got famous got crazy,” he once summarized in an interview. But Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong isn’t entirely sane either. Seeking to sidestep the acoustic guitar dudebro trope yet not really feeling bangers in the works, Devine went a bit off the rails this time around; NRSNW forefronts psychedelic pop arrangements, sardonic self-talk, and an almost hypnotic sense of ennui. The stresses of divorce, newfound fatherhood, and a global pandemic upending his line of work (although much of the material here was written before that last one) act as window dressing to the album’s slow-motion mental breakdown. Just one problem: in typical Devine fashion, it’s reaching us at a point when records about these topics, inspired by these circumstances, and indulging in these emotions have started to feel a tad ubiquitous, a tad safe.

Invisible or not, Nothing’s Real is real, and those who choose to dive in should know they’ll get a cohesive experience that forges subtle new ground for the songwriter at its helm, even if its sound has been done before by others and half these cuts are essentially less striking iterations of theirs and his own. It opens about as nightmarish (in a good way) as it gets with “Laurel Leaf (Anhedonia),” a downward spiral of regal strings, funhouse effects, and tensive depression. Similar vibes emerge on lead single “Albatross,” where the listlessness conveyed in its sing-songy melody just begs for a nonexistent light to pierce the despondence. In a less eerie vein, “Tried to Fall in Love (My Head Got In The Way)” works in some alt-country slide licks and “Someone Else’s Dream” and “Override” display the best of Devine’s pursuit to marry internal struggle with a 60s pop framework. Think the platonic ideal of an OK Computer / OK Human collision.

And then there’s…the rest of the album. “How Can I Help You?” boasts a strong vocal hook, but it’s incessantly paired against an earache-inducing chime loop that I can only describe as the bastard child of Wii menu music and a sassy elevator. “It’s A Trap!” likewise contains a sticky chorus, but the remainder of the song slithers in one ear and right back out the other. Ditto for “Hell Is An Impression of Myself” and to a slightly lesser extent “Swan Dive,” neither of which add anything unique to the record’s bigger picture, only serving to emphasize Devine’s tendency to intersperse his bottled lightning with under-baked mid-tempo duds in need of more time in the oven. Ironically, the most meandering, quiet cuts here fall on opposite ends of the success spectrum; “If I’m Gonna Die Here” is an inconsequential blink-and-miss-it interlude, while the slowcore closer “Stitching Up The Suture” shoos the haze for a sobering moment of clarity.

While Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong forges an offshoot identity for Devine, contorting expectations while remaining quintessentially himself, that holds as true for his shortcomings as it does for his strengths. Some of it is the result of unfortunate timing, yes, but the fact remains that for as much of a mainstay Devine has been, the closest thing he’s had to a breakthrough is now over a decade in the rearview. “Just another Kevin Devine album” isn’t really anything to scoff at either, but it is a little frustrating to know he’s capable of more, especially as Nothing’s Real proves he can push his core formula into new corners. At this juncture, Devine’s paid his dues, and this album indicates he’s been having a rough go of things lately on a personal level. What more than recapturing his composure could we really request of a guy whose affability almost overshadows his songwriting merit? Taking “effort, not results” as a mission statement, I'm becoming uncertain which is the lie: the elegance of Kevin Devine's career, or the agony.

Recent reviews by this author
U2 Songs of SurrenderCusper The View From Above
Asunojokei IslandThe Dear Hunter Antimai
Proper. The Great American NovelPeregrine (USA-MA) the awful things we've done
user ratings (12)

Comments:Add a Comment 
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2022


Album Rating: 3.5

Had a draft of this ready to go in like, April, and just didn't feel it summed up my mixed thoughts in a concise enough manner. Rework after rework after rework, this is as close as I think I'll get. Wish I liked the album more. Still like it tho. Cheers

Staff Reviewer
September 10th 2022


Pos'd, I always like your reviews!

Haven't checked this one but not entirely sure I feel the need to either.

Staff Reviewer
November 4th 2022


really good review

You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile


Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Site Copyright 2005-2022
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy