Sean Waterman – Devices – Album Review
Meat. And Potatoes. Simple.
Watching my peers out there online attempt to contort this album’s title into some kind of clever tag line that works has been…oh I suppose both sad & interesting. When it works, it works – none of these did, but I mean sure, do that stuff if that’s what you dig on doing. But when it doesn’t? That’s when we see writers stretching well-beyond their means. Meat. And Potatoes. Sean Waterman. Devices. Done. Will this article be read less without some zippy tag-line introducing it? Good lord I can only hope so.
Sean gets it. When he released his single “Easy” back in 2020, it read: “My new song ‘Easy.’” Simple.
When you’re making music that speaks for itself, all the words that might come after are really just noise anyhow – mine included. The best review I could give anyone out there would contain one single word – listen. I’ve never been bold enough to actually do that, and my rambling ways tend to prevent that from even being a possibility…but in my heart of hearts, I know that’s the facts. Sean Waterman makes music that speaks for itself. I’ll tell ya all about it as best I can describe it, but the real meat & potatoes of this situation right here, is that you should listen for yourself, pure & plain…this dude’s got a real gift.
Confirmation came pretty quickly for Sean’s new record, with his lead-single “Rules” going on to secure him a nomination for Best Singer/Songwriter at last year’s Hollywood Music In Media Awards when he put this cut out back at the beginning of 2020 as the first track available from Devices. I’ll tell ya this much without question – it’s pretty easy to hear why an artist like Sean would make an impression with the authenticity he brings to his music. While I’d probably never argue that “Rules” is any kind of typical single you’d find out there in the world, there’s a tangible uniqueness to what Sean does that makes it more than qualify. Sure, you’ll hear hooks in the verses & chorus of this tune – but ultimately, it’s the man himself that’s the main hook beyond all – there’s something genuinely magical in Waterman’s connection to the music he’s making, and it’s a magic he’s able to transfer directly to us when we listen. There’s an endearing quality to the way he approaches his melodies & vocals, and you really couldn’t escape it if you tried – from the moment the sweet strum of “Rules” begins, and he starts to sing…I mean, it’s game over for the rest of us immediately…he gives you every reason to remain captivated. From the brilliantly vivid imagery of his lyricism and the tangible emotion he puts into his vocals that makes every detail in his words come alive through his voice…I gotta say, “Rules” is the kind of cut that really deserves the attention & accolades it’s already received. It’s the kind of track that instantly confirms that there’s a whole lotta thought being put into the songwriting from the concept on up – not a hair out of place & nothing I’d remotely think of changing here…Sean is relentlessly enticing, full-stop.
Lemme give you just a sample…a morsel…a tiny gold nugget of the kind of stellar lyricism this guy is capable of, because I’m loving so much of what he’s written into this next tune called “Bodies.” “I’m like paper…it starts to burn – it’s what it’s like when I’m up right next to her. Like fever…that won’t abate – I’m praying don’t break, how can I stay this way?” Are you KIDDING me? Sean just melted the hearts of every person listening to his words right there…no doubt about it. Insightful, real, honest, and beautiful! And beyond all that lyrical awesomeness you’ll find from this dude? Good lord…you can’t ask for more than what you’ll find here – the hooks are spectacular, the vibe is as well, and the level of innovation that is on display from the music to the microphone was an endless delight, every time, straight-up. “Bodies” is one of those stunning Indie-style tunes that you feel like you can’t live without from the moment you hear it, and provides you with that special connection to your soul that only great music can really generate. There’s an energy & spirit to “Bodies” that just makes you wanna stand up and cheer for Sean…listen to the wildness in the background of this cut will ya? That alone is well worth the price of admission here, and it’s all surrounded by so much more that it’s tough to put it all into words – but the reality is, it’s songs just like “Bodies” that reveal Waterman to be the next-level artist people have been talking about out there in the ol’ music-scene, from the pros, to regular folks like you and I.
Ha! Ok Sean. I see you brother. You wanna go and impress the world with a song got ya nominated to start, follow it up with a brilliantly inventive & addictive cut on “Bodies” afterwards – and THEN, you’re just gonna go and flip the script and prove you can be the crossover sensation for the new generation too with “Devices?” C’mon now bro…you gotta leave something on the table so the rest of the scene can be eatin’ too, don’t ya? I loved the surprise of the reveal here on “Devices” – it’s freakin magnificent and there’s no other conclusion that can be drawn. While you can hear the use of subtle effects in the mix and on the vocals of this record’s title-track as it begins…at the end of the day, it’s still a fairly delicate & acoustic-based vibe that’s as easy-going, inviting, and mellow as much of what we’ve been experiencing so far…at least, as it began. About a minute or so into “Devices,” the digital beatdown is officially off & running at full speed – and it’s a fantastic twist that I can’t imagine anyone was really expecting to find on the first tour though this record. While a track like “Bodies” makes hints towards a more innovative spin on the acoustic sound, a track like “Devices” makes no attempt to disguise its digital influence after that first minute passes, boldly sending the vibe of the album in a new direction. At the very least, a song like “Devices” teaches us to toss any expectations we might have had straight out the window and ensures we’ll not assume anything from there on – it’s a stunning artistic twist in the scope & range of style & sound on Sean’s album that works brilliantly to expand its potential even more. And now nothing’s off the table…if he’s capable of combining the digital & analog realms with this much cohesion and his stellar approach to songwriting & lyricism…factor in the spectacular qualities of his humble vocals…I mean…everything you wanna hear is right there on display in Sean Waterman. This is the genuine article & the real deal, as they say…Sean’s onto something significantly special here.
He’s almost kind of like…an exciting version of Bon Iver. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always admired the beauty in Bon Iver’s music, but it’s always been missing that spark for me. Sean’s able to get that energy into his tunes that makes a sound like that reach further with its undeniable accessibility, bringing in hooks that are upbeat in a way like Death Cab For Cutie or Styrofoam would do, or perhaps something even more intentionally sparkling, like Faded Paper Figures. You’ll hear what I mean when you listen to tracks like “Devices,” or even more specifically, a tune like “Zero Hour.” Now…I don’t know much about anything in this world, but I know what I like…and some kind of combination of everything I’ve listed in comparison here, like what Sean creates on “Zero Hour,” is pretty much the recipe to everything I’d ever wanna hear. And perhaps that’s the most mind-blowing aspect of Devices as a whole so far – by track four, Sean has displayed massively different facets within his own signature sound, and come out winning every single time, if not even raising the stakes continually as this album plays on. Because I have a very hard time saying that “Zero Hour” isn’t my favorite of the first four, even after all the incredible things I’ve pointed out so far! Which left me kind of shaking my head in disbelief & wonder – this world of ours cannot let artists with this level of genius, heart, and passion simply fall by the wayside. So I’d personally like to congratulate the Hollywood Music In Media Awards for being a step ahead of the rest in that regard…I know it wasn’t a nomination for “Zero Hour” that brought Sean to them, but it very well still might be in the future, and it proves they all heard the magic in this guy from moment one. Waterman has a tremendous amount to offer this world with his music, and “Zero Hour” is all the proof you’d need to know he’s capable of thriving in kind of style he might choose to take on.
This cat can’t lose. “Swerve” might not make the instant impression the energy of a track like “Zero Hour” makes immediately…but I’m not saying that’s impossible either – it’s just a totally different vibe. Sean takes you into noticeably deeper emotional terrain here, and he puts in an immaculate highlight for his soulful vocals into every note & tone he sings on “Swerve.” All-in-all, it’s a lower-key groove & somewhat down-tempo style of energy…which honestly probably plays to his advantage with what’s currently happening in the music-scene right now…but regardless of that, Waterman continues to reveal depth & dimensions to Devices that can’t be ignored. Just when you think you’ve got some kind of bead on what you might be able to expect, or what you might think your favorite part of his music may be – he’ll flip the script, switch it up, and give you something entirely new to consider & compete for the top spot on your playlists. Because I can tell ya firsthand, there would be specific moments in time where I’d wanna reach straight for “Swerve” and play this at maximum volume for some cathartic relief – and it’s fair to say that perhaps not every song provides that as its most dominant trait. I think the sincerity of Sean’s music is on display in every cut, but it’s tracks like “Swerve” that get to the core of that just a lil’ bit more through the bold confidence, stellar technique, and endearing tones he brings to his vocals. There’s a lot of sweetness in “Swerve” and contrasting emotions to go along with it…Waterman’s lyrics and imagery are as on-point as ever, giving you an excellent mix of a true palette of evocative sound. He’s actually not too far removed from something like you’d find on a Better Than Ezra record with this particular cut…and once again, that’s more than A-ok with me…they’re still one of my favorites as well.
In listening to “Don’t Let Me Down,” all I found myself thinking at first was just how much Sean hasn’t let any of us down for a single solitary second throughout this album – and how there’s not much I can hear that would stop this very record he’s got here from finding its way onto a whole bunch of top-tens at the end of 2021 when all is said & done. Tracks like “Don’t Let Me Down” and like “Bodies” earlier on are actually mind-blowing in how the guitar is being used…this man can JAM, and let there be no mistake about that – the fact that he’s got his lead axe buried so deep in the mix of both those tunes is nothing short of remarkable. Think of it this way – there are THAT many awesome things to be heard on Sean’s album, that what would easily be a verifiable highlight on just about any other record out there, is simply another spectacular ingredient to an all-out stellar tune from Waterman, you feel me? Any other artist or band out there with the gift of being able to play a guitar like this guy can would be like, NO DRUMS, NO KEYS, NO VOCALS, NO NOTHING – LISTEN TO ME RIFF! And yet here we are – Sean’s got some of his most vibrant & exciting musicianship buried so deep that it simply ends up adding brilliantly to a mellow vibe that encompasses his whole style & sound. Sure, “Don’t Let Me Down” is more amped-up & energetic than the majority of this set to a large degree, but you’ll hear what I mean – he possesses a confident calm that always speaks volumes on behalf of just how well he knows his material & exactly what he wants to get out of his music. Like…even part of me wants to say to bring up some of this amazing stuff he’s laying down into the forefront of the mix – but I cannot, and will not, argue with the perfection I’m hearing as it all stands right now. As I said from the very beginning, anything I could say is purely just noise…nothing I can say will justify just how good this guy really is. You listen to the natural smoothness & fluidity he creates in the verses of “Don’t Let Me Down” and can’t help but be mercilessly hooked into this tune. I won’t lie to ya – I might like these verses better than I do the chorus of this cut, but don’t get me wrong y’all – I’m definitely not complaining about either of this track’s main defining aspects…I think Sean has once again successfully cranked out a whole new dimension of his sound here.
Even after everything I’ve heard so far & how impressive the consistency in this set-list has been all-around, I think we can all still hear that extra spark in the design, energy, and melody that makes “Easy” a natural choice for a lead-single, which it was back in April of 2020, still well in advance of the official release of Devices. I’m not gonna blow this up outta proportion – we’re talking about a 10% difference on a record that’s filled with equal caliber candidates in that regard…maybe at the maximum. The reality is, Devices is loaded up with impeccably consistent music from start to finish…there might be a bit more added brightness to the sound & vibe of “Easy” that makes it stand out potentially a little more in comparison to some, but by far one of the greatest assets of Sean’s music & style is the fact that any of these songs would make a solid gateway into his record, and that no matter which one you choose first, the rest should be just as inviting to listen to afterwards. Spoiled for choice, he clearly is. Aside from a single called “Bedpost” put out in 2015, as far as I know, Devices is actually the first record that Sean has made in about a full decade – and his first full-length at that. I am praying that it doesn’t take a full ten years to create this kind of quality and that we’ll get a new album from Sean faster this next time around – but by that same token, if the end results are anything close to what we hear on Devices, you’ll find me more than willing to wait for forever if I gotta. Just like…I mean…don’t make us though Sean, please! He goes gentle on “Easy” and keeps this track a bit more within the script you know of tried, tested, and true material, keeping the focus on the beauty in the melody and the mellowness of the vibe fully intact. With its tangible emotion and heartfelt observations detailed in the lyricism, warm glow to the music and chilled-out sound, “Easy” has an alluring appeal to it that’s pretty low-key energy-wise perhaps, but there’s no doubt whatsoever about the level of mesmerizing vibes at work in the atmosphere of “Easy.”
If I had to put my finger on what’s actually made Devices as stellar as it has been to listen to this entire time…I’m gonna have to argue that it’s the man behind the microphone himself. There’s a lot of great music on this album…don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong…but with as subtle & delicate as it usually is track-to-track, it’s the personality & character & tones of Sean’s voice that make the most resounding impact overall. Case in-point – “Blue” – I love pretty much everything about this tune, and I’d argue that the music almost plays like an afterthought altogether! It’s not that it doesn’t exist – but it does play a supporting role to the nth degree. Mix-wise, it’s pretty much Sean’s voice that you’re gonna hear as the dominant trait on “Blue” – and let me be crystal clear here – I have absolutely zero problems with that. In fact, I think he’s done an all-out exceptional job, and basically carried the full weight of the entire song on his shoulders when it comes right down to it – that’s what I’m saying. “Blue” has just enough sound going on around Sean to support him and guide him along…and not one iota more; nor does it need anything else than exactly what it has. As a result we get Waterman in one of his most organic & natural states on this particular cut…and it’s the magic in the combination of melodic sincerity in his vocals that has no problem pulling us in. No major bells & whistles are required – I could sit & listen to this dude for hours, if not for days on end…everything about Sean’s music reveals the authenticity in his passion and approach to songwriting, and it’s been a pure joy to listen to this man sing his way through Devices the entire time. “Blue” gives you a real snapshot of Waterman’s voice at its most unfiltered & straightforward…melody that comes straight from the heart and beams right through the microphone.
If you can listen to “Flatline” and not come to the immediate conclusion I put forth in this review – that Sean’s music speaks for itself – then I just don’t know if we listen to music in the same way, you dig? When Waterman is at his best like this…believe me, I’d fully assume that we all universally connect to a track like “Flatline” because it’s just a whole lot easier to imagine that scenario than trying to conceive how anyone could really resist! Hooks are on-POINT here…and Sean introduces ya to them straight away, bookending this cut perfectly with an all-out irresistible & charming chorus that brings you to the heart of this final love song. A reference to the concept of love being eternal, “Flatline” is a completely stunning piece of songwriting any which way you look at it; from the gentle beep of the medical machines in the background to simulate that heartbeat monitor, to the highlight performance that Sean gets from himself in the melody of his vocals…the dreamy atmosphere & breathtaking beauty he’s got woven into the fabric of his music…it’s as subtle as it is bold, and makes all the impact of a timeless song you know without question will remain a part of your own personal soundtrack for the rest of your life. In fact, there’s a really, really good chance that Sean might even have THE best song on his record here at the very end…even after all the awesomeness we’ve experienced prior, there’s simply no denying how much of a highlight he goes out on with “Flatline” – it’s heartbreakingly beautiful & sweet, and a truly award-worthy song in my opinion. And if that ain’t the notes you wanna leave us listeners on, I’m not sure what else could possibly be. Sean Waterman’s a genuinely special gem of an artist – he’s proven that with impeccable precision & passion throughout this whole record…and I already can’t wait for his next one. I don’t wanna wait another decade Sean…but don’t get me wrong…I will if it sounds like this album does – Devices is as gorgeously complete & conclusive as it is innovative & entertaining – we’ll be listening to this record for years & years to follow, because this is material that’ll hold up, 100%.
Find out more about Sean Waterman at his official website at: http://seanwatermanmusic.com