It has been a little over two years since the release of The Devastations' acclaimed self-titled debut - an album described by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Mojo magazine as "the best thing I've heard all year", and named the best debut of 2004 by Rolling Stone Germany. But that time has been spent productively, the greater
part of it in Europe, using Berlin as a home base, touring the continent and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Einsturzende Neubauten and the Tindersticks.
And now The Devastations - vocalist/bassist Conrad Standish, guitarist/vocalist Tom Carlyon, and drummer Hugo Cran - return with a sophomore effort, Coal, that more than delivers on the promise of their debut, displaying assurance, subtlety and
Formed in late 2002, the Devastations were from the outset mining a well of their own, preferring understated emotion and veiled menace to the primal strut and bluster of the much-hyped 'new rock' of the time. The critical response to their debut album,
released in May 2003, earned the trio Australian supports slots with the Dirty Three, Cat Power, Tindersticks and the Black Heart Procession - but the Devastations always had their sights set further afield.
They moved to Berlin and played their first European show in September 2003 as part of 'Bada Bing', a concert series organized by Alexander Hacke of Einsturzende Neubauten. They soon scored a European deal for their debut album through influential Spanish label Munster, and toured extensively with Tindersticks. The Devastations also recorded the backing tracks for infamous Berlin duo Cobra Killer's
third album '76/77'.
These many and various experiences have all put their stamp on Coal, contributing to the album's impressive richness and range. Recorded in three locations - a Prague concert hall, the former East German headquarters for radio and television in Berlin, and a Melbourne studio - Coal's gentle ballads, such as 'I Don't Want to Lose You Tonight' and 'Dance With Me', sit alongside the sharp, rapid fire assault of 'Take You Home' or 'What's A Place Like That Doing In A Girl Like You'. Strings and piano alternate with stinging electric guitars, and throughout the songwriting is deft and heartfelt.
The record's beauty is also enhanced by the contributions of a number of special guests. New Zealand songbird, Bic Runga, lends her gorgeous voice to 'A Man Of Fortune', Padma Newsome, of highly-regarded New York instrumental quartet Clogs,
plays violin and viola on 'I Don't Want To Lose You Tonight' and 'A Man Of Fortune', and Genevieve McGuckin (ex-These Immortal Souls) plays a woozy optigan on 'Dance With Me'.
It's a testimonial to the Devastations' craft that despite its varying recording locales and special guest appearances, Coal is as cool, cohesive and compelling a record as you could ever hope to hear.
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