David Gielan – Where The Heart Breaks – Album Review
I’ve had a pretty good run this week…there’s really been some fantastic singer/songwriters and powerful new voices out there in the scene popping up here at the page – and here’s another one. Based out of LA, David Gielan is definitely an artist I’d easily add to the list of spectacular finds in 2018 – he’s got a new album coming out officially on October 2nd – and wouldn’t ya know it, this lucky guy right here with two thumbs has got access to it all early.
Now let me tell ya about how happy I am about Where The Heart Breaks!
They say that music is a cyclical entity…that different styles & genres travel in these loops that rotate through our history, bringing sounds we love back to the forefront of popularity over time after they’ve faded away. In the mid-90’s, there was a sincerity building in the Alt/Pop community…bands like Counting Crows, Vertical Horizon, Better Than Ezra, Gin Blossoms…I could go on & on to highlight the multiple examples that existed…Dishwalla, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Dave Matthews Band…you get the idea…Matchbox 20, Collective Soul, Semisonic…okay…it’s kind of my wheelhouse. The point is – it was a time where the music being made really connected for its authenticity…and then one day, it went away. You can argue that it got reinvented into the whole Folk-music revival somewhat when Mumford & his kids were doing whatever it was they were doing a couple years back…but it didn’t actually fill that void.
David Gielan could though.
I’ve spent what seems like an eternity in purgatory with songs that have come from Nashville…and there’s no need to start all that up again now with David being based out of LA & all…but the reason I brought it up, is because while they’re all down there in the supposed music-mecca searching for the formula for the perfect song – a writer like Gielan was born with everything he needs right inside him. The guitar he’d eventually pick up only added to what was clearly a songwriter just waiting for his moment – and now it’s here. He’s already released plenty of music…but if the argument that music is a cyclical thing holds any water, what I really mean, is that his time is now. There’s so much room for this out there and legions of people that crave a subtly charming, sentimental & sincere sound like David’s. My point in bringing Nashville’s music-factory up at all is the fact that people go there in search of what Gielan already has…& it’s truly something that can’t be taught – it’s either in you, or it’s not – he has it. The infamous music-mecca could help create you a perfectly hollow song that could never hold a candle to the genuine authenticity & strong connection you’ll find in the songwriting & sound of David Gielan.
LISTEN to that opening will ya? I just looked up the word ‘inviting’ in Webster’s dictionary and “It’s Been Years” popped open on my playlist at the same time – coincidence? You decide. Alright, alright…that’s a slight exaggeration of the truth in terms of how it happened, but the point has been made and I stand by the comparison – “It’s Been Years” immediately pulls you into the smooth sound of David’s music through a gorgeous combination of heart, melody, & musicianship on display. You’ll hear how well he can tackle the lead vocals in this first impression – he’s gold on the mic; he’ll also often use what sounds like a female backup singer as well, and in those moments you’re in for an even bigger treat as the harmonies really bring out the sweetness in the sentiment & song. Great tone in both the rhythm & lead guitars, immaculate violins and piano, excellent vocals – there’s no doubt that David makes an immediate impression for both the quality of his music and his vocals. As the title implies, Where The Heart Breaks isn’t exactly filled with sunshine and rainbows theme-wise…but you kinda gotta admit that the comforting vibe in this tune gives off that warm glow like a tune like “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” has to it. I think ultimately David makes this more of an emotionally connected and powerful experience than that playful single from the Counting Crows created, but there’s definitely a similarity or two in how these songs head straight for the heart with their endearing melodies. Without a doubt, no matter how you hear it yourself or what you end up comparing it to in your own mind, it’s a fantastic start.
Lyricism too – the first line on “Breathing Fire” is freakin’ fantastic and shows David’s ability to write killer lines that metaphorically represent the complex emotions he’s describing. The gentle sway of the guitar/drum combination of this second tune really complements the feeling of the emotions he puts on display in his words. Loved that…hmmm…I suppose it’s still a violin at the end of the day…maybe? No. It can’t be. I think there’s an accordion in here too…buried deep…maybe played through keyboards…but there’s something that’s really strengthening the background melody at the same time as you can hear the violin taking the lead – so they gotta be separate elements, but I’m positive they’re both in there. However he’s doing it, whatever’s creating that glow in the background, it’s essential. As for the accordion…maybe, maybe not…I’m not gonna deny, I hear all kinds of crazy things on a daily basis – don’t judge me. Regardless of all that – “Breathing Fire” really moves in a moving way – you can feel this melody right at the core of your soul…more towards the Toad The Wet Sprocket (the Fear album more specifically) style of sound & structure on this cut. I love songs like this that have the ability to be captivating by their own natural means…”Breathing Fire” isn’t going to go out and fight for your attention – but it will get it. A fine example of a tune that you can hear grow in confidence, conviction, and courage as it plays, getting stronger and more in-depth as the violins soar through the melody – and David ends up making a real impact on the microphone with a gripping, raw, & wonderfully expressive performance.
“Miracles” really brings out that Vertical Horizon-esque sweetness in the vibe. And if I haven’t commented on it by now, I should have – David’s got a violin that flows through quite a few of these songs and every single time I hear it, I’m honestly blown away by just how much depth it adds to the melodies he’s creating. Solid guitar solo on this tune…perhaps an even more memorable breakdown just around the corner where you really get to hear David isolated on his own for a moment and belting out some extremely powerful notes and moving moments. I’d put this tune somewhere in between something from Black Lab and something from Vertical Horizon…felt like BL sincerity & monumental emotions inside of a VH structure & style. Overall I think the playful guitars in the verses of this cut were already worth the price of admission…but having said that, I think there’s a really strong case to be made for “Miracles” housing the most single-worthy moment of the entire record through the chorus. And believe me…we’re only talking about the third song right now – I’ve already heard this record many times – this album is STUFFED with highlight moments. Even with that being the case, I think the chorus of “Miracles” has a higher-level of accessibility than perhaps any other…it’s a flawless gem of a moment in music, executed perfectly on all-fronts…bulletproof hooks and an unforgettable experience overall.
“Better Than This” has wonderful guitars in it…and don’t get me wrong, the rest of it all comes out sounding perfect too…well…you know…everything except the misery you’ll find in the storyline of this twisted love tune. No joke – David’s pulling no punches here…this cut goes deep and definitely points out just how much love can hurt the heck out of us just as much as it’s supposed to provide us with all that good stuff. Heavy on the heartbreak here – “Better Than This” is a gentle-but-scathing opinion on the aftermath of a relationship where it becomes clear that the event still grips much of his mind today. But hey! Again – he’s made his position clear on the title of this record – you knew what you were in for. If you’ve ever wondered Where The Heart Breaks – it’s right here, right in this moment he’s singing about on “Better Than This” – and believe me, it’s a hurt that can go on to last a lifetime. Somehow – I feel like I don’t need to explain that to David…this track makes it plenty clear that he’s felt the wrath at some point and felt that pain of heartbreak without question…you couldn’t write this tune unless you had, that’s how real the details & feelings are here. It’s a tough-but-fair assessment of the situation and a powerful song on this album…likely a song (and perhaps record) that, if he didn’t get this out, he’d implode…and that doesn’t do any of us any good, especially himself as an artist. So he’s chosen to be real with us all and let us into the grittiest of personal details throughout this record…and ultimately, from one brother to another, I’ve been there…I know that writing this kind of stuff out as raw & real as possible makes it possible for EVERYTHING else to happen afterwards. Otherwise, without making this record, a dude like David Gielan might be stuck roaming around the upstairs attic of his mind forever.
Bringing in a hint of the blues to “Nailed To The Ground” – the guitars sound excellent throughout the lead in this tune, perfecting complementing the vibe set by the piano, drums and vocals flowing through the atmosphere and quite honestly, reveal that David is capable of communicating his emotions, thoughts and feelings just as clearly through instrumentation as he can through his voice. He’s got this one set almost in a call-and-answer style where he’ll sing a line and then respond with a guitar-lick right afterwards. Nothing over-the-top…he’s got the right energy and idea here and I really felt like this both worked AND offers the listener a structure & flow they don’t normally experience – “Nailed To The Ground” is really well thought-out and equally well put-together. He’s reaching deep on this cut and lays down some of his most gripping, personal & insightful lyrics that you’ll hear on this album. I’m never 100% sure on any theme from any band/artist – I just know what I hear; “Nailed To The Ground” exposes that push/pull dynamic of a relationship…where you can see things going wrong and perhaps know the right things to do, fix things, stop the madness…but you’re paralyzed & somehow helpless to do so…sometimes beyond any explanation you can even supply yourself with or justify. Like you’re “Nailed To The Ground” for the moment…but still with that potential to one day break free and do the right things you’ve always intended to. Like I said – don’t quote me on any of this, just a theory, heck – it could all be self-projection…so I better shut-up and move on. Bottom line is, “Nailed To The Ground” really provides one of the most thought-provoking moments on the album…another really great tune.
You won’t find many tunes on this record that couldn’t become a single somehow – and the title-track is certainly no exception to the rule or high-standards that have been set in the first-half of this record. The crisp snap of the snare on “Where The Heart Breaks” and the clever way the drums break into the toms & kick to build the moment up before surging into the energy of the chorus worked fantastically. Lots of diversity back there on the kit that really helps strengthen the songs on this record & this tune is a shining example of that; you can hear it’s the backbone & driving force that propels the rest of the magic surrounding them to truly come to the surface. Did I mention Deep Blue Something and Edwin McCain in that list up top? Those two acts would also work in comparison to some of the sounds that David’s flashed along the way as well. He flashes a McCain like brilliance on his title-cut…no doubt that this is definitely a strong tune for the ol’ singer/songwriter. I had moments where like, when he initially launched into the chorus of “Where The Heart Breaks” I wanted just a bit more energy from David to match that energy that surges into the music – but at the same time, after understanding the way he writes and structures his songs – I’m also no fool; I knew he’d save some real fireworks for the end of this tune and yes, he does. So…overall…really, there’s no complaints here…I suppose I could argue that it had that sense of ‘ok, I know where he’s going with this and I know how it’s going to play out’ – but at the same time, how can you argue with your ears when everything they hear is going so RIGHT for David along the way? Violins sparkle with personality and charming sounds throughout this song – loved those, and ultimately, everything from the music is once again spot-on for execution…it’s all been as tight as it gets throughout this whole record and certainly remains that way. If there’s some sort of flaw in the performance or production when it comes to the music on this album – I can’t hear it. That applies to the vocals as well – don’t get me wrong, everything you’ll hear that way is equally bang-on – so I’ve got a few spots where I feel like maybe he wanted to ratchet-up that energy a bar or two earlier than he does on a tune like “Where The Heart Breaks” – when you hear how he ends this tune on such a spectacular finale, you’ll know exactly what’s got me being so greedy.
Stripping back the sound on “Oh Bethesda” – you get a real close-up, intimate and personal performance from David that completely hits the mark. The minimal ingredients seriously stack up here – he demonstrates a ton of personality in the music from his acoustic guitar and puts in incredible melody with remarkable technique through his vocals. Smart play by leaving this cut so bare-bones – I think it’s really done him and his songwriting justice here; you can really get right into this tale of life & love and absorb his words clearly, all while the sincerity of the music seems to completely back him up with the right emotion, atmosphere & overall vibe to complement the lyrics. I love his observational style of writing lyrics and the attention to detail he has…how he’ll write both inside & outside of his own thoughts, how he’s unafraid to ask questions in his words & make additional points that way too – dude’s got lots of great ideas and writes about many themes people can certainly relate to. In a true case of it’s not always about what you say, it’s how you say it – the presentation and sound of “Oh Bethesda” absolutely shimmers & shines with sweetness and intimacy you can only really get from a song when recorded in such an isolated style & personal moment like this is. The rhythm & melody in this tender tune is captivating to listen to, truly…without a doubt one of my favorite cuts on this album.
Dude can really write words with a jaw-dropping mix of imagery & emotion – LISTEN to the attention to detail on “This Old Burning House.” And here’s where the rubber really meets the road for me – this was where, beyond any shadow of a doubt, I became completely sold on David’s music…because the chorus melody that he’s written into this song and the stunning execution that comes with it…is absolute perfection, full-stop. Don’t get me wrong…on repeat spins, I’d go on to realize & recognize I’d been sold long before this…but in terms of a breathtaking first impact – what he’s written into the fabric of this melody speaks straight to the soul. I’ve told many people throughout the years that one single moment can sometimes make the entire difference…sometimes it’s that one hook, verse, solo or lyric that can leave a listener with an impression that’ll last a lifetime – this was that song for me. “This Old Burning House” has amazing lyrical imagery, incredible violins, and a chorus that is so stunningly well-executed that they should just had David the award right now for the year’s most magical moment. I think the focus in this song is truly remarkable in every sense of the word…the way it builds into its short instrumental break right around the 3:20 mark is another quick highlight before we head back into the exquisite hooks that “This Old Burning House” has. David sounds spot-on perfect in the chorus of this tune – you couldn’t possibly ask anything else from him in a song like this…the words in the verse will keep you glued to the storyline & lyrical-aspect…& that chorus just invades your ears with no resistance.
Somewhere in the middle of Dog’s Eye View and the Gin Blossoms without becoming The Fray, a song like “Till We Break” exists. I’ll say this – I still love this tune and I STILL think that ultimately, you could even market this cut as a single too…literally just like EVERYTHING this guy has put onto this record. That being said, if I’m being honest, I had my moments with “Till We Break” where I wondered whether or not it quite hit the standards of the rest before it or fully belonged on this album. I think when you get to the chorus and the execution you’ll find there in the melody, then there’s no question it belongs. As for the verse…maybe a bit sleepy…I dunno…I suppose I’m speaking on behalf of how other people might hear it more than myself…like I mentioned in the rambling intro of this review, what David does is right where I’m at personally in what I often listen to myself, so I had no problem getting right into this tune. In the chorus, he’s almost a dead ringer for Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms in how he sings it, which, again, personally, I love…that’s always been one of my favorite voices out there in any band.
No matter what comparisons you’ll make, the conclusion you come to will ultimately be the same as my own – what a golden voice this guy truly has and what an amazing gift he’s got for songwriting. It’s just amazing to hear how much beautiful tone and sincerity you can really hear in David’s vocals. You can tell he writes from the heart, because you can hear it. Saving some of his most intimate highlights for the very end, “Marigold” is a spellbinding & captivatingly gentle & delicate melody that contrasts emotions boldly on this final gem from Where The Heart Breaks. You’ve hardly heard me complain at all throughout this review…and believe me, I’m definitely not about to start up now…there’s a really large part of me that feels like “Marigold” is probably my favorite on this record FULL of highlights and strong songwriting. C’mon now people – this is beautiful, straight-up. Gentle acoustic rhythm, stunning violin adding perfectly to the melody, flawless vocals with meaningful words…for such a mild-mannered song, it’s really got it all. The progression into the chorus is fantastic, David displays a magnificent professional restraint in letting “Marigold” build slightly, but never too much – he keeps this final tune right where it should be and allows us to exit this experience on the most mellow of vibes, while still displaying that bold mix of emotion & heart that’s made every single one of these songs on this record amazing to listen to along the way. I can’t imagine anyone out there thinking that this last tune doesn’t completely hit the mark if they’ve stuck with the entire record to this point…this is more of a great thing in less of a package, that’s all. “Marigold” is the subtle highlight that Where The Heart Breaks deserved to make that lasting impression…the boldness of space and stunning songwriting allowing you to really absorb this final tune and reflect on just how awesome this record & this gentle giant of an artist really is.
Find out more about David Gielan at his official homepage at: http://gielan.com
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