Monday, 17 September 2007

Album: Devastations - Yes, U


Until this year I really admired Devastations. Their first two albums were solid, and live Conrad Standish was an enigmatic and sensual frontman. Inexplicably, their performance at All Tomorrows Parties festival in April saw him leaving many of the vocal duties to guitarist Tom Carlyon. Additionally their sound had changed drastically, leaving even favourites like Previous Crimes behind.

Even on my first listen to Yes, U, I was convinced the band had shot itself in the foot. But then I was enraptured by The Pest, and slowly their new world opened to me as I realised my mistake - the band had progressed and moved on, while I had not. They’ve moved away from the sound that led to comparisons to Nick Cave or Tindersticks to a sound more akin to Shriekback, or The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds. They‘ve dumped their original template to create a wholly original work - instead of Coal II they’ve opted for something braver and far more adventurous.

The album is hypnotic and powerful, considered and intelligent and improves with every listen. It’s made up of long tracks, which fall and lock into a relentless groove. While it could meander and lose its way, drummer Hugo Cran keeps a tight rein on proceedings with his considered and timely work. Carlyon’s guitar spirals over lyrics that at first feel improvised, but then reveal their purpose. It’s immediately dreamlike and beautiful, a glimpse into a dark, sexual world. The album tells tales of love and acceptance, desire, marriage proposals, and the death of a parent.

Their stay in Berlin has influenced them, for Yes, U is the sound of a twenty-four hour city whose virtual heartbeat underlies the whole work. It may not grab on first listen, but it’s such a mature, considered and intelligent work that it warrants, nay demands, that you spend time with it, taking the time to learn its curves and intimate places, much like a new lover.

Both engineering and production are superb. The sound is at once both sparse and densely packed. The bottom end is weighty but never ponderous; the electronica meshing seamlessly with the organic, possibly partially due to the contributions of HTRK’s Nigel Yang and new(ish) member Andrea Lee.

This album is a brave and humanly-flawed statement from a band taking risks and exploring new avenues. At its best, it’s nigh on brilliant. With Yes, U, Devastations have risen above mere casual admiration; they’ve shown themselves to be worthy of our love and respect. I hope they find it.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review was published in Inpress, Melbourne on 19 September 2007