After the release of their album II, Bad Books has been an up-and-coming band in my hometown’s music scene. Although Orlando isn’t Madison, actually quite the opposite, I would like to think that there is a group in Madcity who crave the powerful vocals of Andy Hull and the creative folk-flare of Kevin Devine, since the two have the ability to create a sound that doesn’t overpower one or the other’s character. Although composed of familiar faces from Manchester Orchestra, Bad Books is very unique: less aggressive, more focused on vocals and instrumentals, but nonetheless a mix of music that makes you want to pick up your guitar, acoustic or electric, and jam with some good pals.
This is what I love about Bad Books, that their songs are not only incredibly catchy, filled with pop-y touches Manchester Orchestra doesn’t dare touch and foot-tapping choruses that could have a fan of any genre tapping along, but also their songs are a story in and of themselves. I am biased to the second album, being a recently committed Bad Books fan, but I can safely say that their musical mannerism from both albums is one that inspires me. It gets my musical veins pumping because their music sucks you in on a lyric-writing level- one of the most basic levels, but nonetheless, a level that most people are attracted to.
They are relatable. So when I say you want to pick up your guitar and jam with some good friends, I mean it with all the musicality in me. Not many bands do that, not many bands bring me back home to Orlando, to the shed in my friends’ backyard where the mess of guitars, keys and bass drums were arranged in such a way that the whole mix of friends could get involved. Fortunately, though, Bad Books does.
And oh, the simplicity. They aren’t trying to incorporate two drums, four guitars, and three vocalists. Although I love bands like Mice Parade for this, I don’t get attached to their songs like I do with Bad Books’. I might look at those songs with awe or contemplation, but there is something missing that disconnects me from the albums. For Bad Books, the outcome is something recognizable to our ears, making it easier for the lyrics and instrumentals to seep in. Andy Hull’s vocals are less forceful (in comparison to his vocals for Manchester Orchestra) to match Kevin Devine’s musical goal of incorporating the sing-along sound he is attached to and the more indie-alternative sound of the bands he tours with.
“42” is my favorite song off the album II. Not only because I can play it, not only because it’s the most story-specific song, not only because it’s the most relatable to me, but also because it shows what the power of two different artists can do when under the force of collaboration. The whole song highlights Hull’s incredible vocals, which, in front of an electric or acoustic guitar, are about as pure as vocals can get. But as we proceed through the song, his vocals become harmonized, like the vocals of the folk-band Fleet Foxes. It’s glorious.
“Petite Mort” ranks as number two on the album II, for my taste at least. Their acoustic version of the song on YouTube is prime. You can really see the ability of Devine to write songs that touch on the dream-like sensation of acoustic folk songs, but when listening to the original song off the album, you get BOTH Hull and Devine’s flare on the indie-rock sound. Creating an even more layered tune.
There is not an element about Bad Books’ music that would turn any melody lover away from engaging in a new take on the indie-rock scene. Devine and Hull make a good pair, creating a new sound that enhances both of their most specific characteristics.