This planet is dull. It’s all traffic lights and trousers, sunburn and interest rates. It’s so boring that when Dev Hynes picked up an acoustic guitar, the nation of indie felt its heart murmur. Only in a world gone bulimic on mutant music ovulations from an industry obsessed with consistency could people be so affronted by a man unplugging his guitar. OK, so the dude was in Test Icicles, but did you expect him to still be peddling loon-punk three years on?
A pissy broadsheet hack once compared Dev to Nathan Barley due to his residency in the various crews which also spawned both The Horrors and Klaxons, but with ‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge’ Hynes has confronted the scenester lifestyle with more cohesion than Chris Morris ever managed. This is an album of genuine depth, one expressing the nervous conservative shockwaves which charge through party kids once they start to come down. If chasing happiness on guestlists and coke wraps doesn’t work, then where exactly does that leave a hedonistic youth culture?
‘Galaxy Of The Lost’ may not have seemed imperious as a single, but as an opening gambit in this chagrin manifesto, it’s perfect. Here Dev looks at his peers with a mix of disgust and envy: “Hate to think what would happen if I started to drink like you/Maybe I would loosen up”. Shackled by his angst within a “castle of doubt” the near-teetotal singer attempts to escape in the manner preferred by the society that surrounds him and has another gin; only to discover that the path of excess leads only to the palace of puking in girls’ mouths. And so the tone is set. Dev has drunk heavily from pop culture and it’s made him sick. The success of Test Icicles has left him isolated and paranoid, waiting for the “backlash to break my neck”. At tiresome east London club nights, pretentious friends are obsessing over the latest ghetto crazes (‘Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk’), while outside youths are stabbing each other to death (‘Tell Me What It’s Worth’). Next door the hipster is spending another drunk night with a stranger (‘Let The Bitches Die’) and downstairs black kids are trapped in violent hip-hop clichés. Viewing all this from under his duvet is Dev, unwilling to leave his flat, unable to write songs, tortured and embarrassed by his neuroses, desperate for love and unable to allow closeness. He is a writer of his time, reared by the transparency of social networking and reality TV and so, with brutality he pours sadness and self-loathing into his melodies. There’s nothing new about that, but Hynes’ real gift is in the clarity of his caustic vision of everything before him.
Dev’s displeasure for the pop world is matched by his reliance upon it, marking moments of happiness by watching DVDs of The OC, and going to see Saw III. This juxtaposition is reflected in the desperate earnestness of the music which surrounds his blog-esque poems. Producer Mike Mogis’ Americana orchestrations bubble with life and sweat, with a desire not to reflect the world the author is so sick of by shunning the modern and gimmicky. Clarinets, violins, cellos, pianos, a choir, Emmy The Great’s cut-glass backing vocals and even an electric guitar are here, dappled across the songs with a reserve which deserts him only as ‘Midnight Surprise’ extends into its 10th minute.
“I’m going to assume that my phone is broken/Delivery reports have ruined my life”, sings the gloomy youth on the brilliant ‘Devil Tricks For A Bitch’. As far as tragedies go, it’s not exactly Grecian and Dev clearly knows it, as a comically melancholy violin sweeps in, mocking the protagonist’s mundane misery. But if the lyrics seem adolescent, the music is mature, with an orchestra revealing itself, letting the song exhale into climax.
And so the song melts into a proud rhythm and electric guitar, as if to say triumphantly, ‘I told you I was no good, now witness the proof.’ Naming a song about losing your virginity ‘I Could Have Done This Myself’ is an exhibition of truculence that Morrissey would be proud of, and once again Hynes’ honesty is shattering. Unable to stomach either himself or others, rather than resolving itself, the album’s beautiful conclusion ‘No Surprise (For Wendela)’ reprises ‘Midnight Surprise’ as the words, “The more I hear, the more I hate” repeat into infinity. Is he sick of himself, or sick of those around him? It’s hard to tell.
The key song is ‘Salty Water’. Here Dev ruminates on the success of Test Icicles. Riding the crest of the wave he’s dreamed of so often has only left him waiting and expecting to be killed in the current. This is the same current which flows through his neighbourhood, over his album, under his friends’ beds, through drug dealers’ pockets, across dancefloors and under the Lavender Bridge. It’s that bridge which, in a melancholy fog of sex, drugs and pretension, we all seem to be falling off.