Bad Books a good listen

Adam Schasel, Staff Reporter

Bad Books does not have the kind of music you can do your homework to.

To fully appreciate this band, one needs to grab their iPod (or, if you’re like me, slide in the CD), put on their headphones, and listen. While the indie supergroup certainly provides its share of catchy melodies, it’s the lyrics that truly make this band stand out. A creative collaboration between Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and so-hipster-you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-him singer-songwriter Kevin Devine, Bad Books separates itself from the angsty, thick-rimmed glasses-wearing pack in this department, presenting musical storytelling that you’ve never experienced before.

The follow-up to their 2010 self-titled debut album, “II” is an improvement in nearly every single way from Bad Books’ already-outstanding self-titled original effort. Hull and Devine alternate singing duties each track, mixing up the feel and style of the album after every song without making it feel incoherent. Being a side project, Bad Books provides an opportunity for both singer-songwriters to experiment and deviate from their traditional styles.

This is evident in the self-loathing, sardonic opener “The After Party,” a major derivation of Hull from Manchester Orchestra’s typically upbeat and happy music.  The track you’d most likely find on a Manchester Orchestra album is “Forest Whitaker;”  with the synthesized, upbeat feel of the song a radical departure from Bad Books’ usually acoustic, low-key performance style. However upbeat the track may be, the lyrics never fail to be introspective and thought provoking, with lines like “You moved to Japan, thought a clean bill of health and a camera could show you the plan/ I bought a bird, that repeats what I say but ‘I’m lonely’ is all that he’s heard… And I know, you hate me too/ You always say you do.”

Another track worth mentioning is “Pytor.” The simple, acoustic guitar repetitions aren’t anything special, but they allow the story to shine through: the track retells the story of a Russian tzar’s discovery of his wife’s affair with her secretary. According to legend, Peter the Great, upon discovering his wife’s treachery, ordered the beheading of the lover and had his head placed in a glass jar. As per her punishment, Catherine was forced to spend time with the severed head each day. The song itself plays off as a duet between Peter and his wife’s lover’s severed head, each proclaiming their respective love for Catherine. It’s weird, I know, but Hull makes it work on such a level that you actually feel sympathy for all involved.

Toward the end of the album is the best track: “42.” Although the shortest of the bunch, the vocals and lyrics pack an emotional punch that alone is worth the price of the album. Hull and Devine are obviously doing some serious soul-searching when they harmonize lyrics such as “You and your dad what a tragic mishap/ When a man loves a drink more than blood/ And I pace my room for an hour or two every day since 2001/ And I think that I talk too much.”

You won’t find any major stylistic innovations on this album, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up on some of the best storytelling of the year on “II”. If you’re a fan of either Manchester Orchestra or Kevin Devine, or are just looking for some hipster cred to hold up against your friends, this album is definitely worth checking out; just as long as you don’t mind sitting down for an hour to really listen to some great music.

Recommended Tracks: “Forest Whitaker,” “Pytor,” “No Sides,” “42”