At a time when both politics and the planet seem to be spinning out of control, Colin Devlin’s new album High Point takes the sonic high ground. The world has shifted since this Irish singer and songwriter released his acclaimed solo debut Democracy of One in 2010, but his approach to finely crafted music remains steadfast, with warm arrangements and timely lyrics about exploring the darkness and light of human relationships.
Devlin first earned his reputation for atmospheric songs and nuanced vocals during the 1990s and early 2000s, when his band The Devlins received four stars from Rolling Stone and placed songs in more than a dozen films and TV shows. After the success of his first solo album, Devlin won “Best Irish Male” at the Meteor Music Awards in 2010 and co-wrote several tracks on Janiva Magness’s 2016 album Love Wins Again, which earned him a Grammy nomination.
Now, Colin Devlin continues his signature sound on 2018’s High Point. His second solo effort was produced by longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright) and recalls the work of classic moodmasters such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, and David Sylvian. Recorded in Los Angeles and Montreal in 2017, the album’s lineup includes Marchand and Devlin on piano, guitar and keyboards; guest guitarist Michael Brook; brother Peter Devlin on bass; Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Garbage) on drums; and Jeremy Ruzumna (Fitz and the Tantrums) on piano and keys. Blue Elan artist Chelsea Williams adds vocal harmonies to several songs.
Devlin says High Point has a “family and friends” vibe—with edge.
“The album was finished during nine days at Clear Lake Studios when all the musicians were together,” he says. “We rented a house in Los Feliz with a pool, and it all felt very rock and roll––until I realized that my three-year-old daughter had erased the production notes from my iPhone’s voice memos. Thankfully, it was perfect timing. We had just laid down the last track.”
Opening number and title track “High Point” returns to the shadowy rhythms for which The Devlins were best known, featuring a haunting (and danceable) EDM break by the band. The singles “Just A Fire” and “Highwire” follow; the latter tune is set in a technological world where months fly by, connections are intermittent, and relationships are fragile but worth the effort to go the distance: “Stay with me now,” Devlin sings over a cascading piano line, “Believe in yourself, you don’t have to worry at all. Everybody stumbles and falls on love’s highwire.” “Promised Land” is a signature Devlin ballad with a Wurlitzer piano solo and an addictive chorus with guest vocals from Williams and Lisa Lambe (“You can’t help me anymore. The truth is I don’t care. The promised land is waiting out there.”)
“I could have made a traditional alternative rock album with High Point,” Devlin says. “Instead, I let each song determine its own direction. There’s so much noise out there in the industry, and this recording reflects a range of textures and total creative freedom.”
“This is Where We Are” captures the optimism of that freedom in Devlin’s acoustic guitar and Chamberlain’s solid backbeat. “Nostalgia” examines the pull of memories and the need to focus on the present; “Shine On” is a gentle testament to loved ones lost but not forgotten; and “Water” is a cascading tune about fleeting desire. The hymn-like “Exosphere,” written after the birth of Devlin’s son, is a simple ode to fatherhood and the mysteries of everyday love, but also represents a yearning for a deeper knowledge of one’s own existence.
In a world of disposable pop music, High Point is another plateau for a songwriter who relishes the sounds of real instruments and the value of living in the present.
“Between my first album Democracy of One and the new one, I married, had two children, and started to see life through a different lens,” Devlin says of the writing a recording of High Point. “The songs express an awareness of the beauty and temporality of life. We get so caught up, sometimes we don’t stop to realize how momentous each day can be.”