Even if it was just the singer onstage solo alternating with acoustic guitar, a keyboard and electronic tracks with wild sound effects, I’m super grateful that I got to experience Devon in person, holding court, before a packed Second Stage at Hotel Café, singing the delightfully quirky yet often incisive and insightful lovelorn tunes from her latest album Helium.
That way, I could feel her genuine dynamic, uplifting energy and joyful spirit at the heart of her unique breath of fresh air artistry. Midway through the set – even before she regaled everyone with her previously released clever, self-deprecating ditty “I Bet You’d Like Me Better at Coachella” – was already impressed by her pure mastery of the infectious two to three minute “poppy little bops” (as she calls them).
Whatever the instrumentation, whether she’s rocking with an electric guitar, vocalizing a bit like Alanis Morrissette and unabashedly celebrating new love on “Glitter” or fusing breathy “oh ohs” and bouncy electro-dance grooves on the soulful, she knows it’s over but doesn’t want to say goodbye jam “Just Begun,” Devon’s quickly gets straight to the point. The opening lines of “Just Begun” are so charmingly hilarious and spot on that they inspired the title of her 2020 EP Sitting Up Straight, which has five of the tracks that wound up on Helium. Haven’t we all felt like: “Being with you is like sitting up straight/I just can’t do it sometimes”? Of course, we just can’t say it as concisely and eloquently, right?
True to its title – which by the way is not the name of any one song – Helium is loaded with frothy, fizzy cool vibes often offset by lyrics grounded in the heart’s day to day struggles (like a balloon tied to the tank, ready to take flight. So on “Never Mind,” as Devon is dazzling us with trippy soundscaping experimentation swirling around piano sparkle and vocal harmonies, she’s also trying hard but kind of failing to pinpoint exactly how she’s feeling about something her friend or romantic interest has said.
Likewise, on “I Won’t,” our ears are so caught up in her sensual voice, tight harmony laden chorus, edgy guitars and hypnotic electro-grooves that we may not even realize that she’s practically warning us about how quickly the tides can turn and joy can turn to pain, capped by her vow, “And when I wake up in them morning, I swear I won’t do this again.” Listen to the full half hour, and you’ll surely come up with your own takes on the fascinating contrast between the chipper music and real-deal love analyses.
In a day and age when artists often just release singles and short EPs, Devon offers a few special bonuses with a stripped down piano version of “Careful” (which, performed as if in a musical, allows us to experience the emotion without the sonic intricacies) and a demo for the reflective, guitar oriented singer/songwriter gem “Carousel,”: which she tacked on at the end because it wasn’t a perfect fit with the rest of the material. But that’s Devon – honest and fun and full of happiness even as she tells hard truths.
Listen to Helium here: https://open.spotify.com/album/1yhMmfLe0SVQvFcSngf4Pf