Day 165: Dave Hause’s Devour and the Fall of the Blue-Collar Musician
by Tom Noonan
What kind of lifestyle is Grizzly Bear living? If their variety of indie-psychedelia headlining isn’t one-hundred percent sustainable, then what chance does, say, Dave Hause have? Hause is a Philly punk vet whose new solo record, the road-tested Devour, comes out tomorrow on Rise Records. He also may soon be forced from his songwriting gig for good, pending the record’s success, because making genuinely exciting music just isn’t a sustainable employment option anymore. It’s starting to become troublingly clear that there’s very little room left for over-qualified, blue-collar singer-songwriters to carve out their own niche in the crowded landscape surrounding the rusted, decaying machinery of the music industry’s hit factory. There’s simply not enough work to go around. What kind of lifestyle is Grizzly Bear living?
It’s this shortage, this “endangered” tag affixed to the blue-collar musician, that gives Hause’s Devour its less than stable nuclear reactor. He’s singing for his life, and you can feel it. It’s a deeply visceral record, marked by Hause’s regret but even more so by his action. On his debut, the no less impressive, if not as prescient, Resolutions, Hause preached patience, believing everything would eventually fall into place while clinging to the mantra, “Only time will tell”, for reassurance. With Devour, he’s pawned his watch for one of Springsteen’s suicide machines, but it’s impossible to listen to these recession-era anthems without concurrently imagining Hause signing up for unemployment. It takes Devour about a minute and ten seconds to announce itself as the most important record of 2013, and it does so with the lyric, “I promised that this wouldn’t happen to me.” Right there you start to trust his voice, believe in his crisis of faith, and realize that Hause didn’t write a rock record. He wrote a requiem.
On my first ten or so trips through Devour’s depressed tracklist, I couldn’t help but think about Haim’s Days Are Gone, the record most trend gazers will tell you is the best of the year. I’m not here to disagree with them. Days is a tremendous record, as intricate as it is breezy. It’s the kind of indie-pop music scholars go all Pavlov’s dog over, sweeping together a list of influences scattered across hundreds of Pandora stations. Days makes you believe that all music is somehow connected, that we all are probably connected, and that there might just be a point to all this deliberate noise. It also makes you feel very little else. Turns out the byproduct of all that planning, all that precision, is the filtering out of any trace of humanity. This makes Days play a lot like the Breaking Bad finale, satisfying going down, then causing some stomach pains when you let it sit.
Devour works in direct opposition to Days Are Gone. It’s not as clever with execution, but it can’t help but make you feel something, make you choke up to the point of worrying about where your next breath is coming from. Songs like “Damascus” and “We Could Be Kings” bring a rare form of anxiety to the surface, the same kind of desperation that might get you kicked out of a 7/11. This type of experience can’t be measured in the same way Haim’s can be. You can’t possibly know all of Hause’s references, and I’m not sure there’s an adequate phrase that can describe the personal anguish rearing its head on “Autism Vaccine Blues”. Days is music as science. Devour is music as survival.
I’m ready to accept that Dave Hause will probably never be referred to as a “rock star”, but why should he be? Devour isn’t a rock album; it’s the next great American novel.