by Kris Handel (@khandel84)
Maneka is former Grass Is Green and Speedy Ortiz guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Devin McKnight and occasional help from an assortment of other Northeast musicians. Devin is the second release under the moniker, following Is You Is, one of the best releases of 2017. McKnight has a wide range of musical skills and influences that are easily accessible to him as proven on this record yet manages to make everything gel and flow effortlessly. He shows himself adept at creating music that lives in a space of its own yet one that is comfortable and accessible for those willing to be open to a musical journey.
“A Brand-New Day” blasts off with chiming guitar and a wave of distortion cut through with McKnight harmonizing beautifully with Jordyn Blakely. The churning and grinding bass combines powerfully with Blakely’s powerful drumming. McKnight manages to shift tempos throughout and the song sort of breaks down into a suite like mélange of noise-pop into shoegaze-y industrial aggression before calmly fading into nothing. “Mixer” allows McKnight to cover issues of personal identity, ethnicity, and communication in a heartfelt and pure manner over spidering guitar and a loping rhythm section. He tackles a lot of important subjects but also inflects the song with a bunch of influences - be it punk, a bit of hip-hop, or an extended bit of trippy acid-jazz influenced saxophone provided by Brent Birkhead. “Mixer” is a powerful song that McKnight has worked out meticulously and all the noise and discord fit right along with his message that enhances the power of his words.
“My Queen” is a fast-paced punk blast that features a wonderful vocal cameo from Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, as McKnight rips off searing solos. He spits out his vocals in varied tones that combine nicely with Dupuis, while Fuzzy Dunlop Jr’s drums fires off drum rolls and a persistent kick drum creating a massive bottom end for McKnight to riff off of. “Never Nowhere” is another track that shows off McKnight’s searing guitar work as he pulls off harmonics and careens around a bunch of space for him to explore instrumentally. Here he pulls off one of the poppier numbers that still maintains quite a bit of muscle, it’s a unique blend of songwriting that honestly finds a way to work through its contradictions.
Devin is a record that takes up a space of its own and announces itself inventively by being unafraid to explore territories that may be a little uncomfortable. McKnight handles everything here superbly and with a freshness that is extremely endearing and universal. Devin is a hodgepodge of ideas and slipping tempos and influences, it’s a melting pot and one that repeatedly finds a place to groove out as well. There is a heaviness here without a doubt but also a levity that keeps everything afloat (apparent in little interludes like both “Oopdie Oop” tracks) and enough pop moments that interject some moments of chiming beauty. Devin approaches itself as a bit of a “mixtape” and it works perfectly for everything McKnight chooses to accomplish in his musical dichotomies and does so with tremendous aplomb.