If there’s any band out there that deserves a break, it’s Havalina (formerly Havalina Rail Co.). It’s always a shame when a great bunch of musicians undergoes label travails, touring disasters, and seemingly more lineup changes than The Cure, but in Havalina’s case, it’s just ridiculous. After releasing a couple of albums on Tooth & Nail (which, for some inexplicable reason, got lumped in with the whole “swing revival” that was taking place at the same time), they struck out on their own label, Jackson-Rubio. There, they released several more incredible, but relatively unknown albums (including the incredible Russian Lullabies).
Even as Tooth & Nail seemed mired in the dregs of pop-punk, releasing one band of spiky-haired youngsters after another, Havalina continued to toil away in obscurity, playing to capacity crowds at festivals like Cornerstone but never receiving the sort of press they should have. Still, they pushed on with a perseverance that most punk bands could learn a thing or two from. Well, one hopes that the stars are finally aligning in Havalina’s favor, having now re-signed to Tooth & Nail to release their latest full-length, Space, Love & Bullfighting.
It’s a concept album in the loosest sense of the word, dealing with, well, space, love, and bullfighting. How the band weaves those 3 concepts together into one album… well, that’s debatable. What isn’t, however, is the quality (and quirkiness) of Havalina’s latest batch of songs. When you listen to one of their albums for the first time, you’re never quite sure what to expect. And that’s just as true with Space, Love & Bullfighting. Although not as wildly diverse as America (a fascinating, but confused and confusing melange of styles), Space, Love & Bullfighting offers up enough musical variety to keep you on your toes.
Whether it’s an ode to our solar system’s smallest member (“Pluto”), a Spanish-tinged ballad (“Losing You”), or a trip straight to the cabana (“Carlos,” which, complete with Mercedes Stevens’ sultry vocals, may just be one of the best songs Havalina has ever done), it’s a wild ride. Bandleader Matt Wignall (whose photography graces many a Tooth & Nail album) knows how to write ‘em. His guitarwork is as effortless here as ever, and his lethargic vocals provide a casual contrast to some of the wild sounds you hear.
As with all Havalina albums, there are some uneven moments as the album juggles styles and moods. The garage rock-fueled “I Feel Nothing” and peppy “Rocketship” (with vocal interplay between Wignall and Stevens) suddenly switch to the honky-tonk flavor of “Worst Days” (again, one of Havalina’s best songs) and the aforementioned “Carlos” (I can’t get enough of that song). Plus, there’s plenty of experimentation; just check out the opening of “Spaces and Places” before something resembling a song begins taking shape. And the album ends with the “Space, Love and Bullfighting Suite,” which consists of each of the 5 band members getting to do their own thing, with (surprise) interesting and mixed results.
For the average Tooth & Nail fan, this release will probably still fly under the radar. There isn’t an ounce of angst or punk sneer to be found. Still, it’s a welcome relief to find that a band this talented and unique may finally be getting the support they so richly deserve. Hopefully, these won’t prove to be the “Worst Days” for Havalina; hopefully, the best are still yet to come.