"It's kind of a mess out there," Kevin Devine told me over the phone last week.
"Reality is such a funhouse mirror.... But protest music presupposes sides and presupposes some interest in intellectual seriousness," he added.
In Bad Books, Devine's project with Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull, protest isn't the purpose, but as someone who has always "dipped into writing about social justice," according to him, traces of cultural and political commentary are difficult to ignore.
"In the context of Bad Books, that's not a platform for me to go off [about politics]. Bad Books is like a songwriting project for people who have some aligned ideas and some misaligned. It's not protest music, but social justice adherent. It's, 'Holy s---, can-you-believe-this-is-happening music,'" Devine said.
In an absurdist hyperreality, even the search for something human -- let alone transcendent -- becomes a sort of protest.
"Andy's like a Southern Christian guy.... Andy's a seeker and asks a lot of questions. I'm a Northeastern lapsed catholic, pretty secular. I fell out of the supernatural aspects ... when I was 15.... I'm 39 now, so that never came back," Devine said.
"We are both people who look for things. We aren't afraid to ask eye-rolling questions. We're both looking for something. We're both poking around at that stuff," he added.
Still, Devine see-saws between some eternal, unfulfilled search and the most nihilistic of impulses: "There's nothing out there; everything's horses---."
Bad Books follow suit, rocking between Hull's cradling embrace of mystery and Devine's quotidian whispers. On "III," the tender balance brings beauty to both.
Rutger Ansley Rosenborg is an editor at NBC's SoundDiego. Find out more here.