For as often as the typical purpose of a punk vocalist embarking on a solo project to tap into the everyman spirit of their listeners even more than their day job, Dave Hause has arguably achieved that better than anyone else. Even on his weakest album Bury Me In Philly, Hause’s music has been so adept at capturing a lived-in, burnished warmth that has arguably transcended his work with The Loved Ones, as well as a nous for songwriting that’s drenched in timeless Americana but remains earnest to a fault. Even if his prominence in the scene isn’t at the same level as a Frank Turner or a Brian Fallon, he’s become a resoundingly important voice for that brand of punk, something that Kick isn’t shying away from. It’s tempting to say that, on concept alone, this is the solo album of Hause’s that embodies the traditional spirit of punk the most, with the onus placed on kicking back against hardship and adversity spanning inspiration from the divisive 2016 US election to the death of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson. It already feels like a more solid core after Bury Me In Philly’s relative missteps, and given Hause’s reputation for some truly excellent musicianship and songwriting, there’s really no reason to believe that Kick couldn’t be the return to form that’s due about now.
It’s not like that last album was much more than an exception to the norm that Hause has done so much to set for himself either, as Kick swiftly proves in a return to the excellently rich yet accessible work that has characterised so much of his career thus far. Once again, Kick is indicative of a wizened artist with plenty to say and great ways to say it, bringing the folk-punk attitude of so many of his contemporaries into a more fleshed-out light that definitely roots itself in poppier ground, but never feels artificial or insincere. If anything, it’s the complete opposite; Hause’s ruminations on the world have weight and pathos that hit with so much more strength because of their simplicity, and it leads to an album that’s not only enormously effective, but unceasingly enjoyable to boot.
And that’s not really as strange as it might sound, especially from an album that’s coming from the midst of a world on fire that wastes no time in dissecting the ills that have caused it. That’s definitely a factor, and Hause’s aim moves between targets with great swiftness, taking on those in power at the epicentre of the damage on Civil Lies and those in a position of privilege who can afford to ignore the turmoil on OMG, or lending solidarity to the women living in constant fear of sexual abuse on Warpaint at a time when that seems to be more normalised than ever. But amidst the turbulence, there’s hope and positivity to be found, and the constant references to kicking against the current portray Hause as a man aware of the times he lives in, but willing to plough on through and make the best of things. It’s the central mood of The Ditch and Saboteurs, where the only way to conquer a world that wants to be as oppressive as possible is to find some form of light within it, with Fireflies showing a solace and purity that love can bring within the discord. It’s the closer Bearing Down that feels like the most definitive statement on that though, where a world that’s become too much sees Hause contemplating ending it all and invoking the memories of Hunter S. Thompson and Robin Williams in the process, but it’s the thought of his familly and the joy they bring that keeps him going. It feels like a necessary narrative for an album like this; where bleak nihilism and misanthropy has become such an overriding factor, Kick brings a sense of light and positivity into the discussion that’s been missing for some time, and it’s a remarkably refreshing standpoint that gives this album a lot of likable personality.
It’s definitely needed as well, as instrumentally, Hause’s usual approach of simplistic, no-frills alt-punk isn’t exactly the most malleable framework, and when he does try to bend it in a different direction like on the darker, more tense Civil Lies (alongside Hause’s strangely gated vocal delivery), it can feel a bit too awkward to work. But simplicity is where this album’s strengths do lie, after all, and it’s an ideal backdrop for this more detailed writing, especially when there’s a more robust rollick driving it like on Eye Aye I or The Ditch. There’s nothing that really needed to change about this style at the end of the day, and that’s something that Hause has fully embraced here, keeping the production nice and even but with enough rustic grit to it, and favouring mid-paced bounds that work perfectly well for what he’s trying to do. There’s not a hint of flash here, even with some of the additional embellishments like the hints of gospel vocals on Warpaint or the harmonica on Fireflies, and while on paper that might sound boring or monotonous, Hause’s warmth and hangdog charm and charisma remains a driving factor and fills in whatever gaps a rather straightforward sound might leave.
In truth though, Kick is a remarkably watertight listen with very little to complain about. The odd moment might dip slightly, but on the whole, Hause has crafted exactly the sort of solid, thoughtful album that’s been his forte for a long time now. Coupled with a sense of optimism that defines its own style well, particularly on an album like this, it feels like Kick has more of a place both in Hause’s canon and in modern folk-punk than maybe ever before, and considering everything that he’s achieved so far and the fact that this is as emphatic as returns to form come, that’s more than worth the praise.
For fans of: Brian Fallon, Chuck Ragan, Northcote
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Kick’ by Dave Hause is released on 12th April on Rise Records.