(Okay, I understand that’s an incredibly pedestrian way to start an album review, but this is a punk site, not the Wall Street Journal. But I digress.)
Dave Hause has been refining his craft as a solo artist for the last handful of years. His 2011 debut full-length, Resolutions, proved an excellent introduction to the world of solo artists (though this writer has gone on record before in thinking that the alternate versions of each of Resolutions‘ tracks recorded for a singles project last year were superior to the originals). The success of Resolutions, coupled with Hause’s high-energy performance and ability to connect with crowds of varying backgrounds prompted a seemingly endless touring cycle that found him opening for bands like the Bouncing Souls, the Gaslight Anthem, Social Distortion and Flogging Molly in addition to a lengthy stint on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour earlier this year.
Hause’s teeth were no doubt effectively cut on a grand scale during his years in punk bands like Paint It Black and, of course, The Loved Ones. And while Devour contains moments that will sound familiar to those looking for an up-tempo, anthemic sound, it also finds him taking a giant step forward in songwriting style, not unlike the ‘American Songwriter’ set that includes the likes of Cory Branan, Jason Isbell, Justin Towns Earle and that ilk.
Devour plays as a logical, albeit infinitely more melancholy, follow-up to Resolutions. Hause continues his penchant for self-awareness, and a heavy dose of realism looms large in his lyrics. The difference in progression from freshman to sophomore releases lies in the overall tone. Where the bulk of Resolutions contained heavy-hearted, realistic tales of people that had borne witness to more than their fair share of struggles, there still remained an overall theme of hope. On tracks like “Time Will Tell” and “C’mon Kid,” not to mention Resolutions‘ title track, Hause came across as the kind of buddy who would share a beer with you, listen to your troubles, put his arm over your shoulder, and tell you that things were going to be okay.
Devour, however, finds Hause playing the role of the buddy who might need to take the advice he used to give you ever-so eloquently. Devour was written during times that were apparently troubled on myriad levels for Hause, and the change in lyrical content is noticeable. Tracks like “We Could Be Kings” and “Autism Vaccine Blues” made their live debuts months ago, and present angrier takes on material that we found on Resolutions. If there’s a theme to the majority of Devour, it’s that we in post-Generation X America did everything we were supposed to do and we find ourselves, well, fucked anyway. There’s a certain segment of the working-class population, particularly those of us in our mid-thirties (editor’s note: Hause and this writer are a year apart), that feel increasingly as though we were sold a bill of goods by our forefathers. Like every generation in American history, we were supposed to be successful, more successful than the generations that came before us. We took our vitamins, we did our homework, we prayed when they told us to pray and knelt when they told us to kneel. Only, a funny thing happened on the way to Broadway, and Hause hits on these notes with particular vitriol.
The years since Resolutions’ release, however, seem to find Hause continuing to look not only outward into the ways that society may be spiraling down the drain, but further inward, and perhaps liking less and less of what he sees. Were this a Bill Simmons column, here’s where we would discuss the multitudinous ‘stomach punch’ moments contained on Devour; those moments where if you’ve got any sort of a conscience to speak of, you can quite literally feel the air being sucked out of the room given their weight and gravity. (Of course, if this were a Simmons column, we’d then spend 2500 words discussing which member of the Saved By The Bell: The College Years cast each song on Devour is most like and ohmygod please push me in front of a commuter train.) Devour is full of those moments, perhaps no greater than on tracks like “Father’s Son,” “Becoming Secular” and “Bricks.” The latter two tracks are sparse, haunting, angry songs that play like a man who is not afraid to keep his heart on his sleeve while processing the feelings attached to once-great relationships that have somehow turned south.
The first real glimmer of the sort of hope we were used to from Resolutions comes during the chorus of “Bricks,” however, in which the otherwise melancholy Hause first speaks with tempered optimism about starting over. Album closer “Benediction” is a unique way to tie the album together with the same thread, and at long last helps us realize that, while it’s already been sung, it can’t be said enough: all you need is love (editor’s note: a select few of you will get, and appreciate that reference).
With his second full-length (the first on new label home Rise Records), Devour, Hause has solidified his reputation as a solo artist to be reckoned with. It’s probably safe to say at this point that he’s all-but-officially jettisoned the references to his former band from any needed introductions, much like Tim Barry and, of course, Chuck Ragan before him. And like those two, while Hause may be destined for greener pastures, there’ll always be a seat at the punk community Thanksgiving table for him.