Back in 2009 Deaf Havana released one of best post-hardcore albums I’ve heard from a British band; ‘Meet Me Halfway, At Least’ is an energetic, hard-hitting record with excellent momentum and incredible songs. It transpired after this record that it wasn’t the kind of music the band wanted to be known for, so they went down the alternative rock/pop route on subsequent records, but for me this remains the best and most creative work they’ve ever done.
The most powerful weapon in their arsenal is undoubtedly the vocal talents of James Veck-Gilodi. His tone and range is enough to separate him from the pack, but the way he uses his voice is even better, selecting interesting melodies and clever vocal arrangements that leave hooks implanted in your head for days. Soulful vocals work well with post-hardcore, as the contrast against harsh screaming and heavy instrumentation makes the clarity of the vocals more effective and addictive. Jonny Craig is celebrated for it with Dance Gavin Dance and Veck-Gilodi’s voice works equally well on this record; the clear tone and crisp melodies make him stand out as an excellent singer because in this genre, this kind of vocal quality is rare. With alternative pop, a voice this strong is almost an entry requirement, so vocally the band became much more homogenised on later records and therefore less special.
Though Veck-Gilodi reflects on ‘Friends Like These’ with disdain, singing “I made plans of being more than just that band who had that song about friends and not much else” on subsequent record ‘Fools and Worthless Liars’, you can’t argue with the quality of it. It may have become the song the band loved to hate (I can imagine fans demanding to hear it every show would get old very quickly) but it didn’t become popular without reason: the chorus hook is unbelievably catchy and against the swagger of the main guitar riff, the attitude of the song is hard to ignore. It’s not the only song that packs an unforgettable punch – ‘3 Cheers for the Easy Life’ and ‘Nicotine and Alcohol Saved My Life’ are equally powerful, planting more hooks in your head and pummelling you with dynamic, fast-paced, post-hardcore goodness.
It’s often said that when bands move away from this style of music into a more mainstream offering it’s because the band has ‘matured’. I find this a disrespectful view that too easily dismisses a band’s heritage and implies that the scene a band leaves behind is a second-class citizen. In the same way that Monty Python was considered by a general audience to be mindless toilet humour and stupidity, those who understand their comedy know it to be quite the opposite: it takes a vast amount of intelligence and understanding of wit to actually create something so seemingly mindless and bonkers. Post-hardcore could seem ridiculous to a mainstream crowd – there’s a lot of noise and some bloke keeps shouting a lot about his feelings – but below the surface there’s a rich vein of complex instrumentals, creative and clever vocal arrangements and intelligent song structures. In terms of musical maturity, there’s much more to celebrate here than on an homogenised, mundane pop record.
People change and influences evolve and I certainly don’t begrudge Deaf Havana for pursuing a different style beyond this record – good art can only come from a genuine place after all – but their change should be seen as a lateral move into something different rather than an elevation to something more worthy. Each record they’ve made since is commendable for different reasons, by different audiences, but for me this is the one that stands out the most. ‘Meet Me Halfway, At Least’ might be a record that Deaf Havana don’t want to be remembered for, but it’s one that I never want to forget.
Check out Mike’s cover of Friends Like These below and reminisce with me on one of the UK’s best post-hardcore records.