Sidewalk Dave - Hard On Romance (2012)
Stream: “Wait Forever”
David Van Witt — aka Sidewalk Dave — is at the very least enigmatic, if not a downright paradox. The ponderous, lanky 20-something has spent an number of years living the unpredictable troubadour’s life, travelling the country and cranking out volumes of thoughtful, solid folk rock and alt-country under his humble pseudonym. Then something changed. He sojourned to Brooklyn, and somewhere along the way, created a record that is qualitatively leaps and bounds ahead of any of his other work. It’s a record that bears conceptual unity the likes of which I have not witnessed in any other record this year — an album displaying the songwriting chops of a grizzled veteran much Van Witt’s senior, but with the attitude and grit of a rambunctious, sexually frustrated teen. It’s an album so fully realized in its production and execution, and yet so utterly (and purposefully) immature in every other facet of its existence, that it can’t help but come across as paradoxical. It’s also one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2012, and it’s called Hard On Romance.
As its title suggests, Hard On Romance is profoundly and explicitly sexual. Dave wastes no time with subtlety and tact regarding this subject; rather, he embraces it like a voracious, perpetually unsatisfied lover. And yet, despite more sexual references-per-minute than even the most explicit Lil Wayne single, Hard On Romance never uses sex for purposes of braggadocio or self-aggrandizement. On the dirgey psych-gaze opener “2k Girls,” Dave moans about sleeping with the titular number of women as if it were a form of punishment. “I am my father’s mistakes,” he sings. To Sidewalk Dave, the concept of “hard on romance” — that is, romance fulfilled only by physical stimulation — is an elusive and dangerous beast that yields short term satisfaction and long-term trauma. In a way, it’s rather like an addiction.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy it. Dave may recognize the inherent problems with a relationship built only on copious amounts of copulation, but he also recognizes the benefit. In the guitar-crunching chorus of the Pixies-like highlight “Wait Forever,” Dave sounds like a tortured beast demanding sustenance, alternately howling “I want you here now” and “I want you out of here.” The contrast between pleasure and pain is dizzying, and often it is the musical tone that determines the side on which each song comes down. For instance, despite the insecurity that its lyrics reveal, the stuttering second track “Something About Me” is probably the most outwardly happy track on the record. Likewise, the chugging, penultimate track “Soft Portal” exudes swagger despite opening with the revealing line “Baby, please understand that this ain’t love” and ultimately unraveling into a Titus Andronicus-level chorus of yonic philosophizing. Meanwhile, the atmospheric buzz of “Honey Bee” and the moody synth swells of the closing track “Wake Up Baby” take on a more dour tone. Given the sexual energy that courses through Hard On Romance, perhaps it’s fitting that the album ends on a rather limp note.
It’s fitting and understandable that the most successful songs on the album are those in which Dave’s ratio of enjoyment to suffering is most even. “Cayenne” — the song that owes the most to Sidewalk Dave’s country roots — lilts slowly underneath lyrics that describe the complicated longing that remains for a former lover. Later on, the Classic Rock indebted “Climbing Out The Window” finds Dave caught “in between staying young and growing old” — a crucial moment in a man’s life that much of Hard On Romance attempts to reconcile. Far and away, the best track on Hard On Romance is the supremely bittersweet “Happiness Is An Art: We Must Learn While We’re Apart,” which is not only most morally complicated, poetically developed lyrical work on the record; it’s also probably the catchiest and most singular song. Although these tracks may be more pensive than the rollicking, cock-out garage rock numbers, they pack enough musical grit and shoegaze-influenced guitar textures into their slower tempos to maintain a formidable bite.
On “Honey Bee,” which serves as a reflective intermission in the middle of the record, Dave describes the surreal combination of agony and ecstasy with which a male worker bee copulates with his queen, letting her use him for her pleasure only to rip out his innards and let him fall to his death. It’s a powerful metaphor for a concept that Hard On Romance as a coherent unit explores so well. And yet, even without that context, this work still stands up on its own. In all, Hard On Romance is an inimitable collection of some of the best garage rock songs 2012 has had to offer. From any perspective — lyrical, musical, or conceptual — Hard On Romance is unapologetically and unassumingly fantastic.
Hard On Romance is out now via The Telegraph Recording Company. You can stream it via Bandcamp and purchase it on CD for $8. The CD comes with liner notes, including a brief essay regarding the album’s concept called I Am A Virgin - Please Give Me The Sex Talk, and a set of (censored) nude photos of Dave himself because what else would you include in the packaging of an album like this?