I first became familiar with Kevin Devine's work through his full band's EP of last year, Miracle Of 86's excellent Last Gasp EP. Maybe it was just nice to hear a Bright Eyes influence creep up on someone without spilling over every last trait on them, or Devine's endearing voice and lyrics, or the generally upbeat feel juxtaposing an otherwise negatively-explored relationship theme, but it was one of my favorites of the year as far as extended plays go. So needless to say, my interest was piqued when I became aware of the little-publicized Split The Country, Split The Street, Devine's third solo full-length with this one vaguely (at times) resulting from the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter's reaction to the 2004 presidential election. Despite some noticable filler plaguing Split, it's Devine's honesty that helps keep the majority of the album interesting and enjoyable.
It isn't neccessarily that Brand New's Jesse Lacey has a subtle cameo in opener "Cotton Crush" (but it helps), but more that the song is really the only one on Split that explores the changing dynamics Devine is so flawless at executing, making it the record's prime standout track. The song begins with Devine slowly picking at his guitar and effectively whispering "the bricks get laid...and they get torn up, and laid again...," soon picking up as soon as he starts abrupt strums on the acoustic and yelling along with what the liner notes refers to as a "scream choir" with several more of Devine's friends, including Lacey, shouting "there's a cotton crush! / down in the Southern states / but back up here, man, we've got so much thread and space to waste!"
One of several standouts, "No Time Flat," is where we find Devine at his most political. A lot of people tend to describe Devine as sincere and honest, and it's here in a semi-jangly acoustic shuffle that we're offered the best proof as Devine stays subdued narrating:
...Take abortion away, and both sides are just the same, so I'm not sure why I vote, 'cuz I just don't know what difference it makes. It seems to me we get the same shit from them both. Reform don't work; I think it's time we tried revolt, but I don't got the guts to jump up and go first, so I just shout until my throat hurts, and I curse and I curse at what they fucked up in Iraq. You say support the troops; I do. I want them all brought back, and every building that you bombed raised from the ground. And pull your contractors the fuck out. If you really go and reinstate the draft, you'll straight away just split the country straight in half, so try arresting everyone who sends their draft cards back. I'll be returning time in no time flat...It's one of a handful of upbeat, nicely paced tracks on the disc, and it's what Devine does best. Slower, more lethargic offerings like "Keep Ringing Your Bell" and "Alabama Acres" are decent but don't really do much to invigorate the listener. It's more in songs such as "No One Else's Problem" that Split manages to captivate, as this one in particular builds to a cowbell-laced interlude with some friends yelling "I like to party! We like to party!"; sure, it's rather cheeky but still pretty fun.
Unfortuantely, it's Split's second half that really hurts the record. Devine stuffs a healthy section of his more downtempo exhibitions here, and while none of them are outright bad tracks, few are nearly as interesting as the other aforementioned tracks that gallop in time and better showcase Devine's songwriting.
Split The Country, Split The Streets unintentionally performs just what the title is condemning; it's too uneven to really be a fully enjoyable album, but it's certainly not without a few gems. Kevin Devine writes some unmistakably good songs; I just wish this disc in particular had a few more of them.
No Time Flat
Buried By The Buzz
Yr Damned Ol' Dad