Deaf Havana

Old Souls

Written by: AP on 28/10/2013 23:18:59

Now that James Veck-Gilodi has sung out his frustrations through the cathartic rebirth of Deaf Havana as an alternative rock band - vis á vis the post-hardcore of 2009's "Meet Me Halfway, At Least" - two years ago on the brilliant "Fools and Worthless Liars", which wooed critics, including yours truly, with its big sound and relatable lyricism; he can at last look forward, proud and confident. The byproduct of his, and indeed Deaf Havana's redemption is an album much different from its predecessor; richer in its sound and more mature in its reach.

If you stood the effort, entitled "Old Souls", by the band's début, chances are you'd associate them with two different bands. Long gone is the teenage angst; in its place is a nostalgic, re-energised English country boy singing songs about his life past and present, love lost and found, and being the odd one out - but never with a tinge of the bitterness spat out into the undercurrent of "Meet Me..." and indeed "Fools..." as well. Brushed aside are the musical clichés and poor songwriting; in their stead is a soundscape nodding more toward the great American rock song as delivered by Kings of Leon and naturally the Boss himself, the legendary Bruce Springsteen. It sounds far fetched to be sure, but what used to rely on the standard rock band setup has here been transformed into an instrumental foundation that includes a classic piano, string section, horn section, sitar, banjo and a gospel choir. Tell me there isn't a hint of "Sex on Fire" or "Dancing in the Dark" in the opening track "Boston Square" - it's a huge tune, full of the sort of misty eyed reminiscing those artists are so renowned for and with an instrumental foundation which, despite the simplicity and bombastic nature of the song, affords it an enormous amount of depth and arena reach.

And it's only one among many in this selection of heartfelt rock anthems. Will a more infectious song be written this year than "Everybody's Dancing and I Want to Die"? Its uplifting, bouncy, drive is set in stark juxtaposition by Veck-Gilodi's words, which virtually everyone who has ever felt lonely, or alternative in some way is sure to identify with:

I had planned at 10 years old to try my best, do as I'm told. But that don't catch the pretty people's eyes. I didn't have the coolest hair, the newest clothes, or the richest parents. So I sat alone, as the pretty girls walked by. I tried my best to make in-jokes; I'd either trip up from my words or choke. So I ran back home and stayed inside my room, I swore I'd never go back alive - shadows open shallow minds. But that was just a jealous boy's excuse. 'Cause everybody's dancing and I don't feel the same. This room is full of people who barely know my name, and I don't feel like dancing on my own again. Another year without a friend, another year I just close my eyes and dance inside my head.

Colour with the warmth of a trumpet leading the charge, an interplay between acoustic and electric guitar, and the soft longing notes of a piano giving it a subtle air of melancholy, and what you have here might just be one of the best rock songs written this year. There is an air of Brian Fallon's sublime storytelling to Veck-Gilodi's musings, though they are more literal than poetic, designed to touch the heart strings of people like him. They have universal appeal. Will a more soulful a chorus be sung this year than that sung in unison by Veck-Gilodi and a gospel choir in the powerful "Subterranean Bullshit Blues" (a tip-your-hat to Bob Dylan, for the attentive)? These two songs are Deaf Havana coming of age; phenomenal pieces of music that have been haunting me for weeks, and without the guilty pleasure that digging the likes of the sugary "Little White Lies" off "Fools..." yielded.

It matters little that "Lights", "Night Drives" or the soft and sweet country ballad "Saved" don't quite own up (mind you, they're still good songs in their own right), because for every slight lull there's another "22", a hungover broken-hearted radio hit with instant stick and a clever tribute to Springsteen; "Speeding Cars", which features one of those touching, indelibly written beginnings (reminding me oddly of Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles") in Veck-Gilodi's piano backed regretful preamble "I saw death in the bottom of White Hill Road / Careless try for a suicide note / I turned around and I closed my eyes / But the speeding cars never did collide / Yeah, the speeding cars never did collide."; or "Mildred", which unambiguously chronicles the band's bittersweet history with a musical backdrop that bears a strange resemblance to Coheed & Cambria's classic "A Favor House Atlantic". It's rock solid stuff through and through, and the sheer strength of the record's highlights earmarks it as a strong contender for one of the best rock albums released this year.

Of course, appreciating "Old Souls" comes with the prerequisite that you can dig rock music off the poppiest shelf, for while the lyricism is certainly more eloquent than the dross commonly featured on the airwaves, it is by no means a challenging or hugely innovative piece of music. Any one of these songs could top the chart if justice existed; the difference is, as already described earlier in this review, that like the works of Bruce Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem or Kings of Leon, "Old Souls" has mass appeal without compromising on the integrity of the music. Nothing has been dumbed down to please a producer or radio host; whether it be the epic banjo in roadtrip rocker "Kings Road Ghosts" or any of the aforementioned uncommon instrumental infusions, Deaf Havana prefer for their music to hold more secrets than a simple, memorable chorus. And unlike a good portion of pop music today, Veck-Gilodi needs no digital tools to accentuate his singing: this guy's tradecraft is mastery. Regardless of whether a song calls for soft singing, soulful falsetto, passionate strain or booming power, he has the pipes to deliver it. Having said that however, Deaf Havana should under no circumstances be labeled a one-man show, it is the delicacy and attention to detail in each of lead guitarist Chris Pennells', bassist Lee Wilson's, and drummer Tom Ogden's parts that affords "Old Souls" such a vast and textured soundscape.

Download: Boston Square, Everybody's Dancing and I Want to Die, Subterranean Bullshit Blues, 22, Speeding Cars, Kings Road Ghosts
For the fans of: Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem, Twin Atlantic
Listen: Facebook

Release date 17.09.2013

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