It’s hard to say how fans will react to Deaf Havana’s Rituals, a marked departure from their previous work. It follows along a rather predictable path which sees them move from a fairly pedestrian pop-rock band to increasingly watered-down mainstream pop. But this is the first time that one of the group’s albums doesn’t have at least one redeeming single that might call you back. In terms of production and songwriting, this feels like some of the most dispassionate work the band has released to date. There is no doubt they’ll perform these tracks live with some serious gusto but that doesn’t really come across on the album. If fans dig it, it will be more due to loyalty than any intrinsic merit.

Though it’s called Rituals the band set out what they call “a challenge” for themselves to write songs inspired by such apparently Christian themes as “Wake”, “Sinner”, “Heaven” and ”Hell.” The word “inspired” is being used fairly generously here; the result is as you might expect, a bunch of fairly typical pop songs that sound like they don’t have as much time or thought put into them as the top-five reaching previous record. That this all happened in six months may be seen as a feature, but it also suggests a high-school level writing exercise, as the band seems to be barely trying.

Lyrics seem to back that up. “Evil” begins, “Pure evil is running through my veins/ It’s always been the part of me I can never explain.” “Hell” is self-deprecating relationship song about a relationship which feels like — take a guess. “Heaven” features a notable appearance by a gospel choir for a hand-clapped breakdown and themes of rising up. I bet you saw that coming too.

The band seems to anticipate a rocky reception for this outing, and to head that off they’re suggesting it’s a deliberate departure and downplaying it as a quick follow-up to All These Countless Nights, as though that will make it easier for fans to fork out the cash. Band members were brought in to play some of the parts on the record after James Veck-Gilodi had already constructed the songs on a computer, yet it’s hard to identify elements that sound organic. The album clearly sounds like something made on a computer, and while that isn’t inherently bad, here it’s trite at best.

Rituals is a pop record whose songs aren’t particularly catchy, but if most listeners just hear it as background music, that’s all you really need. Deaf Havana seem to aim for The 1975 or The Wombats-level of pop production but misses the mark, ending up with what sounds like a collection of ghosts from a ‘90s boy band. Perhaps it’s the rock influence in their background, but paired up with Veck-Gilodi’s smooth vocals and electronic production which isn’t rooted in either electro or hip hop, it all just comes off like a blind and directionless stab in the dark.

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