Of all the chameleonic rock bands in British music, Deaf Havana are surely the most shape-shifting. While their peers make strides towards evermore palatable, radio-friendly sounds, the James Veck-Gilodi-fronted group have taken much more dramatic leaps of faith. From the screamy post-hardcore of their debut ‘Meet Me Halfway, At Least’, they’ve gone through soaring alt-rock (‘Fools & Worthless Liars’), Springsteen-worship (‘Old Souls’), and radio-rock anthemia (mainstream breakthrough ‘All These Countless Nights’). Throughout, it’s Veck-Gilodi’s powerhouse vocal and storyteller’s wit that have steadied the boat – through his tongue, even tales about piss-ups in breweries could sound positively profound.
In that regard, ‘Rituals’ is perhaps not the sonic surprise it’s been painted as. Billed as a radical departure from their rock roots, in reality it’s more like the next step in Deaf Havana’s long-meandering path, rather than a complete shock to the system. Indeed, in lead single ‘Sinner’, the sugary synth work only serves to spruce up more of Veck-Gilodi’s typically self-flagellating lyricism. It’s that juxtaposition of gloom and glam that defines ‘Rituals’, for better and worse.
A semi-concept record, framed around the religious motifs that title each track, ‘Rituals’ runs with The 1975’s early days rulebook – a fusion of adolescent angst and stadium-ready synth pop. There’s no denying that it’s Deaf Havana’s poppiest move thus far. They even lift Healy and co.’s latter-day dedication to a gospel choir on the impressively constructed ‘Sinner’ and ‘Heaven’. Done to great effect, it’s a move that’s befitting of Veck-Gilodi’s vocal, which has always impressed with its range and vigour, though one that also polishes away some of the rawer edges that once made his tales of grim reality so captivating and relatable.
‘Evil’ is perhaps the biggest departure from those punchy confessionals – a twisted, blooping cut of melodic, spacey electronica, but one that once again harks back to the similarly electronically expansive mid-section of The 1975’s ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You are So Beautiful Yet So Aware Of It’. It’s a shame that ‘Rituals’ sees Deaf Havana so closely aping that band. while any band keen for stratospheric success would be mad not to glean some of The 1975’s pop nous, Veck-Gilodi is a stunning songwriter on his own merit, with a darkness and dry wit all of his own – one that struggles to break through their new, shiny sound.
Through all those costume changes and sonic shifts, Deaf Havana’s dedication to Veck-Gilodi’s warts n’ all songwriting has always been their strongest asset. ‘Rituals’ sees more of that polished away than ever before. While The 1975 don’t own radio-rock just yet, ‘Rituals’ feels a little too much like Deaf Havana have lost sight of their own signature, while hammering at the heels of Healy’s.