Perhaps the thing that stands out most immediately about ‘Old Souls’ is that they are more than the band that they once were in the most literal sense. What was once a quartet has swelled to a permanent six-piece and the impact on Deaf Havana’s sound is as pervasive as it is obvious. This is an album rich in texture and handsomely embellished, a wide-screen and warm toned affair. Real instruments and lots of them. The pace has slowed too, in terms of influences this is far more Counting Crows and Bruce Springsteen than it is Thrice and Thursday. By the time you get to the end of the soft burning opener ‘Boston Squares’ the message is coming through loud and clear - Deaf Havana have grown up.
That, in and of itself, is all well and good but not without its risks. What has made the band such a compelling prospect previously were effortlessly hooky choruses combined with (what at least felt like) true story lyrics about growing up and small town life. The sonic punch matching the wandering energy of youth. What we seem to have here is a band singing songs about being young, but playing them like old men. Take ‘Tuesday People’ for example, Veck-Gilodi croons that things are worse when you are “the wrong side of 25” but the music that swirls around him is so pedestrian that you wonder which side he and his band actually think that is.
It’s an album that lacks somewhat in stand out moments, there are lots of ideas and plenty of orchestration but not much by way of killer punches or truly breathtaking beauty. That is not to say that there is a dearth of craft on show though. ‘22’ is a really lovely little rock song with oodles of charm and one of the record’s more potent hooks. Similarly, ‘Saved”s countrified guitars and close vocal harmonies are a expertly constructed and unashamedly sentimental mid-album palette cleanser. The best is saved to near last though, penultimate track ‘Kings Road Ghosts’ works deft narrative into a slick and pleasingly ballsy instrumental framework, showing off the flair that such an evidently gifted group are capable of.
Deaf Havana ought to be applauded for their determination to experiment and push themselves on this LP. It is an exceptionally ambitious record for a group of young men who would have met with little resistance had they rested of their laurels. However, in a rush to grow up they seem to have left behind some of what made them so excellent in the first place. Having old souls is fine, but the result doesn’t have to be middle of the road rock records – maybe it is time to push past this and onto another reinvention.
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