Emo to the core

Kevin Devine, Tim Barry, and Stephen Brodsky
By MIKAEL WOOD  |  November 30, 2006

BRIGHT-EYED: Kevin Devine seems poised to connect with Conor Oberst fans.
What’s the latest sign that emo has become a true part of the musical mainstream? Frontmen from popular emo bands are putting out solo records left and right to reach that rapidly expanding audience. Erstwhile Sunny Day Real Estate singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk’s new World Waits (Reincarnate) might be the highest-profile of the current bunch, but it’ll have plenty of company in the stockings of tortured teens this holiday season.

One that might get there thanks to a considerable major-label push is Put Your Ghost to Rest (Capitol), the new long-player from Kevin Devine, who used to lead an outfit called Miracle of 86. (He comes to Axis this Saturday.) That band never made a huge commercial dent, but Ghost seems poised to connect with Conor Oberst fans hungry for new Bright Eyes material. Produced by Rob Schnapf — who’s worked with Elliott Smith and Saves the Day — it’s a bright, catchy, emo-roots charmer that tones down Oberst’s manic-depressive intensity in favor of a sort of junior-Springsteen accessibility. Brooklyn-based Devine shares the Boss’s fascination with all-American imagery: in “I See America’s Promise,” he invokes a “holy distant myth: a pristine Cadillac convertible alone in an asphalt lot,” and “Me & My Friends” describes the scene going down in “the same corner booth” in “the same Smith Street bar.” These are familiar stories populated by familiar characters — as in high Springsteen, that seems to be the point. But thanks to his reedy choirboy voice and his knack for an acoustic bar-band groove, Devine gives them fresh life.

On Rivanna Junction (Suburban Home), his solo debut, Tim Barry of Avail tills similar roots-music soil. Proud Virginians, Avail never worried about playing down the traces of Southern rock that coursed through their scrappy emo anthems — that’s actually what made the band such a dependable live draw even after their studio work began to dull. It’s also what makes Barry capable of selling a line like this one from Rivanna’s “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender”: “First night we met we fucked on the couch in my living room, then spent the morning pretending it didn’t happen.” (Hey, he sells it — he doesn’t try to make it sound sexy.) Barry is in love with the kind of ramblin’-man mythology you can get an earful of at any truck stop in America, and despite the earthy gospel harmonies in “Dog Bumped,” he’s less concerned with his characters’ redemption than Devine — which gives Rivanna a trashy (if shopworn) appeal. You’ve gotta respect a guy who opens one tune with “I was drunk as hell.”

Being drunk as hell might improve the experience of listening to Stephen Brodsky’s Octave Museum (Hydra Head), the Cave In singer/guitarist’s new disc, 10 trippy psych-glam nuggets full of laser-light guitar theatrics and candy-colored keyboard goop that echo late-era Beatles more than the Dark Side–era Pink Floyd you can hear in lots of Cave In’s stuff. Brodsky hasn’t flinched from flexing his pop instincts before; much of last year’s Perfect Pitch Black is catchier than the Boston band’s big-budget major-label debut, Antenna. But on Octave Museum he sounds freed from the pressure to satisfy metalheads with a healthy supply of meaty riffs and bruising beats; this is by far the most textural music he’s made. And beyond the chance to capture a little more of the MySpace market, that freedom is what you figure compels a member of a band to make a solo album in the first place.

KEVIN DEVINE + MATT POND PA + STRAYLIGHT RUN + STREET TO NOWHERE | Axis, 13 Lansdowne St, Boston | December 2 | 617.931.2000

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