Lightspeed Champion’s Devonté Hynes was that emo kid from high school who had too many feelings for his own good — a crazy, mixed-up teenager with nothing to lose. And on his new album, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You, he takes the liberty of emoting to all of his gloomy little heart’s content.
Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You
Hynes’s angst is self-referential to the point that listeners realize he’s being ironic — as if the exaggeratedly wailing violins weren’t already enough of a dead giveaway. At the ripe old age of 25, the England-bred Hynes is making a return to his formative teenage years in a coming-of-age album rife with disillusionment, despondency and all those other quintessential adolescent insecurities. And he doesn’t hold back, either.
His inflected Brit-pop vocals are often tremulous, wavering on lines such as, “I know you’re happy / And that’s lovely / But it won’t keep me company,” from opening track “Dead Head Blues.” He’s pouty and bitchy and sullen and wistful. It’s the last attribute that proves to be Hynes’s major asset, and it clearly separates him from the hordes of whiny Brit-pop would-be rabble-rousers, (here’s looking at you, The Kooks, Razorlight, et al.).
“Smooth Day (at the Library)” showcases Hynes at the pinnacle of his (post-)adolescent despair. Hynes compares himself to a dusty book on a shelf, patiently waiting to be checked out. “Please take me down again, my love,” he endearingly implores, while the trickling sound of bells as a sparse backdrop add an air of nostalgia. It’s actually really adorable rather than annoying.
With all Hynes’s penchant for angst, it makes sense that he worked with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis on his debut album, Falling off the Lavendar Bridge, which is reflected in the tone of his newest release. Hynes’s unfettered anguish is reminiscent of Saddle Creek’s own crown prince of darkness, Conor Oberst. But while Oberst revels in his own wallowing, Hynes has a different type of bright-eyed eagerness — there’s a sense things will only get better from here. It’s a tragedy you can dance to.
“Marlene,” an album standout, is an upbeat, funky fresh tune that’s almost satirically comical — pairing jaunty tambourines against goofily depressive lyrics like: “Everybody knows you want a baby / And God knows everybody wants one, too.”
On Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You, Hynes accomplishes the remarkable task of being sweet without becoming saccharine in the process. The kid’s all right — his corny lyrics are deliberately overdone and meta enough so that listeners don’t feel like awkward losers for being able to relate to them. So feel free to pull on your skinniest pair of jeans, don a black hoodie and get your teenage kicks on again. Sometimes it’s fun to be sad.