Deaf Havana – ‘Rituals’ (Album Review)
On last January’s All These Countless Nights, Deaf Havana hit an all-time high. Countless musicians dream of the Holy Grail, the achievement of simultaneous commercial and artistic success – and these guys achieved it in style. All These Countless Nights was sick, and hit the UK Albums Chart in fifth place.
Everything was looking up, and everyone wanted Deaf Havana to hit yet another high.
In response, the suddenly-former alt-rockers have made a series of incredibly odd choices.
Rituals is a rush job, the product of a creative process that began right at the end of 2017. That process involved abandoning the band’s normal (and successful) way of doing things in favour of picking song titles, then trying to write appropriate music in the world behind a computer screen rather than organically. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and we all know the classic arguments that follow:
You can’t expect a band to do the same thing over and over again.
Progress is better than stagnation.
Some people will “just get it,” while others won’t.
Sometimes you have to accept that you’ll lose fans by doing things a certain way, and hope you gain more by pursuing the path you choose.
Artists should always be allowed to do whatever the hell they want; if people like it, great, if not, tough.
All of that is fair enough – and the final two tracks on Rituals are actually pretty cool. They’re crammed with thick, ambient layers, a mix of synths, strings, an effected choir, vocodered and sometimes pitch-shifted vocals, organ, piano, and so forth. Album closer Epiphany even manages to cut deep as vocalist James Veck-Gilodi pours out regretful lyrics considering conformity and the desire for a fresh start – and the experimental approach even extends to some industrial noises and static, each repeated listen inviting listeners to discover something new buried under the surface.
As far as changing things up, Saint and Epiphany are this album’s best examples of how to do it right. However, they don’t have any competition apart from similarly ambient opening track Wake (which is forty seconds long); the sick drum beat found at the start of Hell; and perhaps Pure, which just about manages to escape the boy-band nightmare that fills the remainder of Rituals.
Especially bearing in mind the sheer awesomeness of the music Deaf Havana dropped barely over a year and a half ago, such an excessive amount of bland, overproduced, soul-drained pop-rock (emphasis almost entirely on “pop”) is inevitably going to attract the ultimate cliché comment: The Sellout Accusation.
Considering Deaf Havana’s current career position, and the vast majority of Rituals itself, that accusation is a tough one to refute. Many people – some old fans, and doubtless a new crowd – will just not give a shit, and since music taste is subjective, that’s just the way it is. Besides, maybe this really is just the album that Deaf Havana wanted to make at this moment in time, something that reflects a band in a better place (always a good thing, no matter what kind of music comes of it) and a bull-headed desire to just get on with things (also a good thing, as long as quality control is maintained at all times).
Hopefully, the end of Rituals points toward a new vein of creative inspiration – one that should have been explored with greater intensity, while the rest of this album was recognised as blatantly inferior and replaced with something better. Besides those two final songs, Rituals appeals directly to the lowest common denominator. At best, it will win Deaf Havana a ton of new fans and get some of them interested in a quality back catalogue – but while that gamble plays out, long-time fans will be right to feel abandoned and alienated.
At least there’s hope, so let’s focus on that.
LTK RATING: 50%
Pre-order Rituals (out August 3) on iTunes.
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