Deaf Havana have had such a plethora of sounds under their one name that there’s bound to be at something out there that every alternative music lover can enjoy. The band have become notorious for their chameleonic ability to shape-shift through various sub-genres under the rock umbrella, while somehow never truly losing their musical identity despite vast experimentation.
Arguably, their concrete identity is mostly down to their charismatic, albeit often self-deprecating frontman, James Veck-Gilodi, whose visions and ideas are the driving force behind the band’s ambitious changes in direction, and whose consistently powerful vocal performances ensure the five-piece stand out from the rest.
When the band first began, back in 2005 where they met at college in Kings Lynn in Norfolk, Veck-Gilodi served as the band’s guitarist with minimal vocal duties, as former member Ryan Mellor instead took the role of frontman for the band.
Over the next few years, the band crafted their sound before releasing their first EP ‘It’s Called The Easy Life’ in 2007, and then later dropping their debut full-length album, ‘Meet Me Halfway, At Least’, in 2009. The group’s style at this stage was far detached from where it is in the present day, with Mellor‘s harsh, raw screams accompanied by rough hardcore tones, and a general ruggedness that just emphasised the fact that the band was still finding its feet.
As 2010 rolled around, Mellor left the band due to personal reasons, and while that left a gap on vocals, the group decided not to seek a replacement, instead passing the microphone over to Veck-Gilodi. With no screaming vocalist, the band moved away from their hardcore sound, transitioning into a more-rounded heavy alternative sound for their second album, ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’ – a record that saw them turn a few heads, and even reached number one of the UK Rock Album Chart upon release. It was a big, yet natural change in tonality, and one that was ultimately worth the sacrifice – something that Deaf Havana would continue to make a habit of doing throughout the years.
Following the success of ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’ was to be no easy task, and with such a challenge, the group did what they do best – mix it up, but massively this time. Veck-Gilodi, joined now by his younger brother Matt, had grown out his hair into long locks matching his sibling, and embraced a more classic style of rock ‘n’ roll, as ‘Old Souls’ introduced an acoustic, folk-rock tone to their alternative prowess, combining Veck-Gilodi‘s smooth, melody-driven vocals with a more expansive, explorative take on their former style.
By now, Deaf Havana were serial songwriters, crafting hefty choruses consistently, while implementing different styles to fit their ever-changing sub-genre of rock music. Their shift into country and western rock here even landed them a supporting slot with Bruce Springsteen – a man who notably inspired Veck-Gilodi on ‘Old Souls’ – who we can only assume must have loved being name-dropped on the album version of ’22’.
The group continued to grow on their next release, ‘All These Countless Nights’, while ditching much of the country rock found on ‘Old Souls’, and instead producing their most complete piece of work to date. For a band that put so much passion into their work, it says a lot that this is considered their most passionate, emotive album to their name. That sentiment was supported by ‘All These Countless Nights’ reaching number 5 in the UK Album Charts, ascending the world of rock to mainstream success.
After such a spectacular release, many were surprised when the band announced just a year later that a new album was in the works and nearing completion. That record turned out to be 2018’s ‘Rituals’, which, again, proved to be another departure from the Deaf Havana of old. This time, pop-centric, glossy, atmospheric synths joined their usual knack of well-choreographed choruses, and Veck-Gilodi‘s personal stories of struggles with relationships and alcohol. Although it wasn’t their most critically-worshipped piece of work, it still holds up as a very welcome addition to their consistent, metamorphosis of a discography.
Deaf Havana have worked their way up the alternative ladder to become a staple, comforting name in the scene, and one that consistently shown signs of maturing and experimenting, without ever letting their standards drop. If you were to ask someone who’d never heard of the band to listen to ‘Rituals’ and ‘It’s Called The Early Life’ back-to-back, they’d likely have no idea they were listening to the same band, and that’s what makes Deaf Havana so great – you never truly know where they’ll go next, but it’s almost always bound to be good.
Check out our playlist below, compiled with what we think are some of the best Deaf Havana tracks in the band’s catalogue, both for newcomers to the band and already firmly established fans.
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Below is our choice of the most accessible Deaf Havana records. With such a choice of acclaimed, lauded, stylistically evolved music, it may be a tough choice to know where to begin. Leave it to us to pick the three essential LPs below.
Released: January 27th 2017
After several records playing around with aspects of alternative rock, this was the one that cemented the truest Deaf Havana sound. Honest, confessional melancholic lyrics intertwined with radio-friendly rock and some truly fine musicianship that combines the old with the new: ‘Happiness’ reflecting on the ‘Old Souls’ country-rock; the ballads of ‘Seattle’ and ‘St. Paul’ reflecting their consistent ability to produce stripped back, poignant piece; or ‘Fever’ harking back to the more rigid tones of ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’.
‘All These Countless Nights’ felt like a synergetic record that looked back to look forward, not needing to be overly explorative, but instead to pull everything together, and that’s why it feels like the signature, and best Deaf Havana album.
Best tracks: Fever / Sing / Trigger
Released: November 7th 2011
After abandoning the hardcore notes of ‘Meet Me Halfway, At Least’, ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’ bridged the gap between heaviness and more melodic-driven song writing in captivating style. Other than ‘Hunstanton Pier’ – a song now synonymous with the Norfolk outfit – ‘FAWL’ refuses to let up, with raging guitars and Veck-Gilodi‘s aggressive cleans creating an intense record that has since become a real fan favourite.
Tracks like ‘I’m A Bore, Mostly’, ‘Leeches’, ‘The World Or Nothing’, and ‘Little White Lies’ wrap together buzzing hard rock with arena-worthy choruses, alongside the relentless drive of ‘Anemophobia’, ‘Filthy Rotten Scoundrel’ and ‘Nelson’s County’, while folk opener ‘The Past Six Years’ gives a taster of the ‘Old Souls’ years that were to follow.
It was with the release of this record that Deaf Havana really announced themselves, and it’s not hard to see why many adore ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’.
Best tracks: Hunstanton Pier / I’m A Bore, Mostly / Little White Lies
Released: August 3rd 2018
This may probably surprise some to see ‘Rituals’ associated with the band’s best works, but their fifth album definitely holds up as an excellent pop record, albeit that’s not a style many would associate with Deaf Havana. While ‘Old Souls’ showed quite a jump into new ideas, ‘Rituals’ was a gigantic leap into a rather unexplored aspect of their sound. The glossy, sugar-coated rhythms of ‘Sinner’, ‘Hell’, and ‘Ritual’ are lightyears from the heavy model of the band, and yet Veck-Gilodi‘s ultimately silky delivery conjoins the old to the new without ever feeling out of place.
When they do include more rock-meets-electronica style tracks, like the fabulous ‘Worship’, or the slick ‘Pure’, it’s equally finely balanced between their typical strong song-structures and new elements. It certainly raised a few eyebrows, but ‘Rituals’ is packed to the brim with a new type of quality and cements Deaf Havana as one of the most successful shape shifters the alternative rock scene has had for quite some time.
Best tracks: Sinner / Worship / Rituals