Review Summary: No, James, you're really not the same as you used to be. No complaints here.
In 2011, Fools and Worthless Liars showed the world that Deaf Havana were simply no longer the band that once released It’s Called the Easy Life. Notably lacking harsh vocals and any really “heavy” influence whatsoever, the album was a brutally honest and emotionally heavy piece of work. While alienating many fans who latched on during the release of any early material up to the first full-length, “Fools and Worthless Liars” was met with critical acclaim across the board and became a favorite in the hearts of many.
Well, the Deaf Havana that put out F&WL are no longer, either. Maybe it’s because the guys are finally getting a firm handle on being a band without the restraint of a harsh vocalist. Or maybe they’re just getting older, maturing…ya know, doing what music people seem to do. Because that’s what this record is: older and more mature. This is something that most musicians will say about their upcoming album without a second thought, but with Old Souls, the concept shines through the actual music.
The album begins with lead single “Boston Square”, which is, like much of the band’s work, vocally oriented. This isn’t a problem in the remotest sense, as James Veck-Gilodi is a fantastic vocalist. From the moment the vocals kick in, the listener can tell that Deaf Havana have clearly decided to take a more traditional rock-and-roll approach, lessening their packed punch even further, but it doesn’t take any value from the music. Actually, the band seem almost the better for it. The lyrics are painfully personal, with such impressive bits as “I thought I saw your reflection in the window of passing car/But I guess I was wrong/All I am is wrong these days.” The track tells the rather sad tale of the band’s old friend Phil, who was mentioned once on “Hunstanton Pier”, a track on Fools and Worthless Liars. Overall the track brings The Gaslight Anthem to mind a bit, namely The ’59 Sound-era, although with less lyrical gimmicks.
Second track “Lights” delivers, once again, what Deaf Havana are most adept at delivering: soaring choruses and passionate emotion. This track takes a more modern sounding approach than “Boston Square”, and truly succeeds in being memorable with the infectious harmonies placed in the chorus and appropriately emotional bridge.
Following "Lights" is something of a curveball: “Everybody’s Dancing” is a song that could be potentially disastrous. With the brass instruments in the beginning and the almost silly light-hearted lyrics, the track at first seems like a dud, but after a few more listens, is shown to be a surprisingly solid selection with lyrics that can be applied to a good many situations aside from a middle school dance. The smashing vocal performance certainly doesn’t detract from the song in any way.
Another clear highlight of the record is “Saved”. With a somewhat country/western-sounding beginning, the track is on the softer, more acoustic-oriented side of things. The atmosphere is utterly without hope, and aptly so, considering the lyrics: “Now you lie awake/and you curse the world for all of your mistakes/well you should’ve known that you’d *** it up someday.” Certainly not a song about to cheer anyone up. The second single and following track “Mildred”, however, might do just that. Simplistic but catchy, this is but another offering of all that Deaf Havana does best. An incredibly catchy chorus and nostalgic, personal lyrics that are easy to relate to without being cliché or annoying.
In all honesty, clocking in at nearly 50 minutes, Old Souls offers enough content that it would be difficult to cover in a reasonably sized review, so let the following be made very clear: Deaf Havana have evolved to the point that if someone who knew only their older material were to listen to Old Souls, they wouldn’t have any idea that it was the same band. Yet, this is not a complaint; the fact that their music lacks the edge it once had does certainly not mean that they’ve devolved in musical quality. Sure, there are a few weak tracks. “Subterranean Bull*** Blues” and “22” aren’t exactly gems, but they aren’t filler to the point that they should be skipped. They contribute positively to the album, and overall, despite my initial skepticism when approaching the record, help to form a listening experience far more solid and emotionally impacting than most fans probably expected, no small thanks to the phenomenal vocal performance of Veck-Gilodi (and assorted backing vocalists). From the opening notes of Boston Square to the closing strums of “Caro Padre”, Old Souls is a tour-de-force all across the spectrum of human emotion that has shown itself to be a clear contender as one of the greatest releases of the year.