maneka celebrates blackness on the explosive ‘devin’lp
By Nathan Leigh
August 2, 2019
Speedy Ortiz guitarist Devin McKnight is no stranger to confrontation, but on his latest record as Meneka, McKnight goes full out. The noisy, shaggy indie record mixes a huge array of influences from thrash to hip-hop to jazz to interrogate the fissures in his identity as Black artist in a white scene, his complicity in the cycle of gentrification, and his relationships with his family. McKnight describes Devin as a “confrontational” album that is ultimately about celebrating “Black pride and addressing my confusion as a minority in white indie rock scenes.”
The highlights of Devin are often the most unexpected moments. The explosion of the hip-hop inflected “Mixer” into a full-on jazz freakout. When “Never Nowhere’s” sludgy guitar continues to devolve into pure noise. The bursts of thrash that crop up in “Oopdie Oop” and “My Queen.” But while the production is full of inspired moments, McKnight’s inventive songwriting anchors the record. His loose baritone slips in and out of focus, while overdriven bass riffs, and mercurial guitar riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a 90s Dischord record create an unbreakable tension.
The best art takes the personal and makes it universal. Throughout Devin, McKnight pokes at the conflicts within his own experience, his own identity and teases out songs that are unflinching, and heavy-hitting. The record closes with the sweetly uneasy “Style (outro)” which cuts up recordings of Devin’s parents talking about him. On an album that finds McKnight deconstructing his identity, the final deconstruction lovingly puts each piece, one by one, on display. Devin is a challenging, confrontational, and often riveting record that demands repeat listens.
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