On Homecoming Queen, Devours’ extra-terrestrial persona feels closer to human than ever.
Since it first started airing in 2000, I have been a dedicated and devoted fan of Survivor. As someone coming to grips with their sexual identity, I identified with the inherent challenge of trying to make your way in a tribe of people who may or may not be on your side, navigating social interactions, making strategic decisions based on how they might impact your future, and staying in the good graces of a group of people who might otherwise snuff your torch. I’m not sure if Jeff Cancade is also a Survivor fan, but getting to know them through their “gaylien” alter ego, Devours, I know they get it, too.
Using Devours’ slick, synthy electro-pop sound as a shield as much as an invitation into his world, Cancade lays bare the perils and pitfalls of finding yourself and fitting into the #instagaybear ideal. They named their boutique record label surviving the game, after all. And with Devours’ latest release, Homecoming Queen, Cancade’s extra-terrestrial persona feels closer to human than ever. In a pre-album release social media post, Cancade explains that the title was not only an excellent follow-up to the story arc established with 2021’s Escape from Planet Devours but dovetailed perfectly with their own life. “I moved back in with my parents for a while at the beginning of COVID,” they share, a time that coincided with the start of work on Homecoming Queen. “I also reluctantly chose to attend my twenty-year high school reunion,” they add, both of which sound like the ultimate survival challenge.
It’s unclear which (maybe both?) homecoming Cancade addresses on Homecoming Queen’s triumphant title track. In either case, much has changed in the intervening years between leaving and returning, but as Devours has learned, you can escape the present but never outrun your past. “I wanted to rise / You taught me to hide / The trauma is a part of me / And it will never let me leave it behind,” they sing in the opening verse, “But when I came home / All the anger from my youth was gone / I held a grudge / All I wanted was to know your love.” Built on beats and synth riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-80s Depeche Mode LP, “Homecoming Queen” is a heartbreakingly beautiful admission of how adolescent insecurities and adult-onset anxieties are just opposite ends of the same field, and our objective is simultaneously staying as far away from both poles as possible.
There’s an unrelenting throughline of loss running through much of Homecoming Queen. Still, even in the deepest throes of defeat (a pitch-perfect “10 Things I Crave About You”), Devours hangs on to optimism and hope (the deliriously catchy “Hairspin”). On the hyperstatic “Slimer,” Cancade swears to “Never give up on us” and declares that no matter what befalls their partner in grime, they are “willing to live inside of [their] pain.” Almost as a counterpoint, the closing song (and the album’s lead single), “The Widow,” is a cautionary tale of confusing infatuation for love and not knowing where one begins and the other ends.
But such is life, where one does not win or lose so much as accumulate experience and wisdom in a long game measured by minor gains or losses, advancements and retreats. Right off the top with opener “37up (The Longing)”, Cancade leans on the sports analogy, lamenting, “I spent my life on the sidelines / Longing for a man / Dreaming of a stronger body / Chasing after the stage / Despite all I have I feel emptier now / I would give it all up to go back to the longing.” Describing the longing as a “life with no mess / a life with no age / a life with no fear / a life with no pain,” that utopian ideal, free from the trappings of gay adulthood, now only exists in the past.
I get it, though; there are undoubtedly freaky Fridays where I’d happily return to a younger me. The question Cancade tries to resolve is how far back is far enough. And though you get the sense from the sometimes sombre and ponderous moments of Homecoming Queen that Cancade never settles on the correct answer, as Devours, they’re revelling in exploring the possibilities and variables of what coming home means and can represent.
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