Devon Sproule & Mike O’Neill – ‘Colours’

Review by Jordaan Mason

It’s hard not to think that a title like Colours is meant to evoke autumn. As I’ve been taking in this record, I’ve been watching the leaves change, the sky shift, the moon hang red over the city. And to consider Colours a fall album is somewhat unfair. Sure, it’s matching the mood of the days getting shorter, the desire to go to quieter bars, to stay in and sleep (I’m thinking particularly of the horn parts on songs like “The Fan” and “The Shallow End”). It’s hard not to think of music somewhat seasonally, but this wouldn’t give the full range of Colours its due.

Devon Sproule and Mike O’Neill’s first full collaborative project is a cross-pollination of two very disparate personalities attempting to find a kind of unity. This duet is the heart of the record, which starts to feel like a conversation. On the opening track, Devon Sproule sings, “You can come home.” Mike O’Neill responds, “I can’t go home/ though the wind is getting meaner/ I can feel it in my bones/ nobody’s gonna be there” (“Magic in the Panic”). There’s an intimacy that develops between the two voices as the record progresses; it feels like an exchange of letters between friends at different intervals in their lives.

Some of the lyrics are immediately relatable, such as “I’ve always wanted it since I knew how to want” (“You Can’t Help It”). Others evoke a series of images stitched together, culminating in the kinds of lyrics you want to memorize just so that you can graffiti them onto buildings: “I have swam past his fingers/ they were perfect fifths into rivers/ I have secured to memory the shivers” (“Walking in the Folly”).

Musically, the album is ambitiously eclectic. For every moment that’s classifiable as “country,” for example, there’s a guitar line or a horn part that comes in and breaks any attempt to classify these songs into a single genre. This eclecticism is somehow never distracting—it feels rather organic. The songs that feel Mike-dominant are often much bigger and elaborate in their production, such as in “Talk to You,” whereas Devon tends to stick with more contemplative songs.

But that’s too easy of a dichotomy to make. The addition of Thom Gill and the rhythm section of Bernice noticeably transform many of these songs into something far different than what they may have started out as. This feels particularly true of songs like “Nobody Tells Me a Thing,” which starts off nicely with as a kind of slow-jam end-of-the-night country song with twangy guitars and crooning background vocals, which then builds and explodes into a rampage of electric guitar and keyboard improvisation. The songs are never treated as static objects. Like the words inside them, they grow, evolve, change.

The Colours of the album’s title are not external but rather internal seasons, the kaleidoscope of selves inside of us that we frequently hide and keep to ourselves. These songs allow the full complexity of those internal selves to be exposed and expressed through the confrontation and collaboration with another. An intimacy is ignited as a song is sung, as it is heard, and as it is hummed.