Margaret Glaspy’s second full-length release, Devotion, couldn’t be more aptly named. In its 12 tracks, the album traces a variety of concerns related to love, intimacy, lust, and devotion, all intermingled with an undercurrent of pessimistic apprehension. Taken as a whole, with the album sandwiched by “Killing What Keeps Us Alive” and “Consequences,” Devotion becomes a modern romance album about trying to love and have hope for your future while you get helplessly hurled into the uncertain and perhaps dystopian future of the world at large.
“Killing What Keeps Us Alive” is a subtle album starter, largely focusing on the repetition of the chorus (“we keep living like we’ll never die/ and we keep killing what keeps us alive”) to evoke a ruminative, cautious atmosphere. It’s an abstract subject that could refer to the literal world we live in, as well as the nourishing relationships we may let go to waste.
The album then unfolds into a record that feels simultaneously fast and long-lasting. The tracks sometimes feel surprisingly short for the depths that they reach, while the variety of styles and subjects keep you on your toes throughout the album, never letting you settle into complacency. The best feature of Devotion may be the skill of Glaspy’s songwriting. Her songs are often filled with captivating details that help build a world and a mood within just a few lines. In “Young Love,” for instance, Glaspy declares that she wants to “build a house for us to hide in / a safe place that we can fight in/ a bed with pillows we can cry into.” “Young Love” as a whole uses the singer’s daydreams of the future to create a song that sounds like vows written at the very moment two people fall in love.
Glaspy also manages to create a refreshingly honest romance album from the pessimistic and “glass half full” perspective. In the album’s ballad, “You Amaze Me,” Glaspy sings to a subject who amazes her because they are eternally optimistic and hopeful when she is not (“I know we’ve lost/ you say you’ve already won”). “What’s the Point” is an excellent late-album song which delves fully into the depressive, hopeless state of mind into which it can be easy to fall. Glaspy wonders why one should bother falling in love when people break up, and why people would “get up to get down?” only to come to a relatively hopeful and graceful answer to her questions.
Glaspy includes a few other distinct angles on romance and relationship in Devotion. The title track has Glaspy explaining to a partner that when she gives them a piece of her mind or gets upset with them, it’s only a sign of her devotion. Rather than pretend that romance is when two people never argue or disagree, Glaspy writes that in fact, it’s the more honest and intimate relationships that see the partners occasionally butt heads with each other.
For the most part, Devotion is a buoyant listen, kept afloat by Glaspy’s clear vocal delivery and largely up-tempo soft electronica-pop beats. The album breaks form in a few songs, which become the most interesting. “Killing What Keeps Us Alive” employs a vocoder on some of the vocals, giving it a futuristic and electronic spirit, while “What’s the Point” brings out a heavy electronica-rock sound that would sit well alongside any St. Vincent song. The album closer, “Consequences,” builds the production until Glaspy appears to be swallowed up by a dense maelstrom of noise.
Devotion is a highly listenable and relatable album, exploring the details as well as the big picture of the undertaking that is letting yourself love someone.