Today is akin to a high holy day for rock, folk and alternative music fans: Jimmy Eat World, American Football, Kevin Devine, John. K. Samson and Dan Layus all put out new records today. I’ve given them all a listen through and they are all deeply fortifying and satisfying in different ways: JEW with it reliable rock and pensive hooks and some of their best instrumentation in years; American Football’s light and delicate touch is a blissful return to what was spawned 17 years ago, Samson’s poetry and imagery is as sharp as ever. Layus’ record was a surprise, but the Augustana frontman has leaned into his country and folk influences for some really fluid songwriting. But the song that has hit me hardest today comes from Devine’s “Instigator,” which might be his most succinct and polished effort yet.

KD hasn’t lost his introspective or his progressive politics, and he often embraces a clean-cut, bold guitar sound that feels very classic and full and realized, polished by years of touring with The Godamn Band. It’s a good contrast for his often dark narratives, which include some haunting refrains. The whole thing is a great listen and I’m sure to return to it constantly, just as his “Matter of Time” collection has been a go-to favorite this past here.

One song in particular is an early favorite, for both its almost lullaby-like melody and its message. It’s a ballad toward the end of the album called “No One Says You Have To” that previously appeared on a split last year, but I haven’t heard it before and it has slapped me upside the head with its message self-awareness and self-care, and its soft, cyclical melody. It has a beautiful parallelism of lyrics as far as repetition and it’s absolutely soothing and haunting and vulnerable and warm. We need more of this, this honestly, to counteract our own cynicism and ironic defense mechanisms that pull us apart from each other. I am so grateful for this kind of admission from a musician and human I admire and respect.

To me, this song is about our sort of useless need to apologize for being human. Maybe it’s largely a product of our success-driven society, but we always seem to want to beat ourselves up for not being *something* enough or for making decisions that maybe were the best we could do at the time. We shouldn’t feel sorry for being who we are.

I can’t say I’m underrated
I can’t say it, so
I can’t say I’m underrated
I know, I know, I know

She says, “Watch your ego, baby.”
She says, “Take it slow.”
She says, “That’s a bad look, honey.”
I know, I know, I know

It gets so lonely inside my mind
I’m surrounded in love all the time

I get stuck in simple phrases
Complicate straight lines
If there’s a knot that don’t need tying
I try, I try, I try

She’s no font of Christ-like patience
And neither, sir, am I
But she’s honest in her imperfections
I try, I try, I try

It just gets scary inside my mind
I turn straw men to monsters
And line their mouths with knives

I say, “I can’t race forever.
Can’t raise the rock so high.”
She says, “No one says you have to.
Let go and take your time.”
~No One Says You Have To
Kevin Devine, Instigator