Nick Costa’s Devastator is a collection of songs that deal with ‘loss’ in all its forms. Whether it’s the passing away of a loved one, the end of a romantic relationship, or even the loss of one’s own self-confidence. Your first assumption might be that this is one hell of a downer, but despite its heavy themes, Costa matches his ruminations with brisk, mid-tempo folk instrumentation, that suggests a kernel of hope. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when you just want to shake him and yell “snap out of it, man!” but ultimately, Costa avoids being pigeonholed as your average, mopey, singer-songwriter.
If you happen to live in Minnesota, there is a high chance that you have heard of Nick Costa. Devastator is his debut solo effort, but the guy has been highly prolific nonetheless. He’s released three albums with indie rock band The Person & The People and has spent ten years with the high energy rock group The 4onthefloor, who got their name from each bandmember playing a bass drum and writing all their songs in 4/4. Devastator is so radically different from any of these projects in its wistful, plaintive delivery, that it’s hard to believe this is the same guy!
It’s not only the acoustically driven aesthetic that is surprising but the depth and devastation of the lyrics. It’s easy to wave this off as nothing but typical ragged folk fare, but listen and you’ll be privy to how apt the album’s title is. Of course, a lot of this is Costa’s own doing, as he often presents himself as a love-sick train-wreck in a sly, self-deprecating way. On the ultra-catchy opener “Throwing Shade,” he runs into an ex-flame, while suffering a hangover and proclaims “Blow me down/ I’ve been an emotional straw house” Although, the line is delivered with no hint of melodrama, it’s pretty evident that he means it.
Costa’s most vulnerable moment comes in the form “New Normal.” Inspired by the death of his brother Joel Bruce Costa, the song is told in the present tense, as he’s trying to help his brother battle his demons. Knowing the actual outcome gives lines “If you have anything to say to me/ Do it, please” such a haunting quality, that it’ll change how you perceive every other lyric on the album. It’s easy to see why Devastator is dedicated Joel Bruce Costa; Nick’s love for him permeates every inch of this record. I applaud Costa’s bravery, and his ability to create something so achingly beautiful in his brother’s honour. As someone with depression, who has also taken care of loved ones inflicted with similar suffering, this one hit home.
Despite Costa putting his soul on the line here, there are times where a slight lack of melodic diversity and same-sounding arrangements do a disservice to his message. There are just too many mid-tempo, acoustic tunes, that the middle of the tracklisting sags a little bit as a result. I get that this is thematically intentional to give the impression of a man putting up appearances amidst a great deal of pain, but cut one or two songs and you’d get the same effect with less fatigue. All that aside, Devastator, is an impressively rich debut from a profoundly deep songwriter. I’d like to see him dive deeper and try more stark arrangements like on “New Normal” and “Skeevy Motel.” Although, at the same time, ten more songs like that, and I might be curled up in a ball on the floor.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy