Bad Books

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

III Review

by Marcy Donelson

Despite its serial title, Bad Books' third album, III, marks a departure from the band's first two releases. Still led by singer/songwriter Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull, the group transforms from a reflective indie rock six-piece with power pop tendencies to a textured, more cinematic trio consisting of Devine, Hull, and, returning from II, Robert McDowell, also of Manchester Orchestra. Conspicuously dropping the rhythm section, III's palette relies on acoustic and electric guitars, piano, strings, organ, synths, and spacy effects. The album was produced by singer/songwriter Ethan Gruska (the Belle Brigade), whose only prior album-level production credit was Phoebe Bridgers' career-making Stranger in the Alps. The restructured approach is gently introduced on Devine's "Wheel Well," which establishes strummed acoustic guitar and ornamental piano before the atmosphere moves in. That includes string voices, hazy and fluttering synth tones, glitchy computer noise, and ghostly backing vocals that are nearly indistinguishable from the electronics. Meanwhile, clear, tight vocal harmonies accompany the song's wistful main vocal melody, which urges compassion with lyrics like "We're all roped at the wrist....As one goes, so goes everybody else." Most of the rest of the album continues in kind; tracks including "Myths Made Plain" and "I Love You, I'm Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank You" are more rhythmic by way of percussive guitar and more active harmonic progressions. They all still get McDowell's celestial treatment. While the experiment works, for the most part, in tandem with Devine and Hull's always thoughtful and occasionally profound words, the album becomes formulaic as songs reliably start as acoustic song, then gradually ascend into the atmosphere. Standouts like Hull's "Supposed to Be" and Devine's "I Love You, I'm Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank You" ("Some bumper sticker wisdom while you're walking the plank") bring some charm to the table, as well.

blue highlight denotes track pick