Sidewalk Dave: Hard on Romance
Don’t read about Sidewalk Dave until wrestling with Hard on Romance for a few listens. It’s inevitable that, after a few songs, you’ll be unable to resist the urge to fire up a Google search and finally figure out what the deal is with this band. But before you turn to Google, struggle to pin this album down for a little while. Admire its ability to be both raw and clean. Marvel at how it managed to be both complex and utterly straightforward. And most of all, enjoy it, because it’s an album that is both charming and maddening from beginning to end. I’m glad I waited to research Sidewalk Dave after listening to the album initially. For it was then, after all the paradoxes, that I heard the phrase “Oddly American” used to almost perfectly sum up the band on its various “About” pages and social media platforms. A smattering of rock, alt-country and 90s-era grunge, the album refuses to stay in one genre, yet is united by the raw emotion and charisma of its mastermind, David Van Witt.
On the opener, “2k Girls,” Van Witt lays out the alt-country stylings of the album that will pop up again and again on Hard on Romance. It’s a simple concept executed with a layered, building instrumental background. After listening, you must resist the urge to dryly remark that, “Sidewalk Dave really is hard on romance, eh?” It’s only the beginning of ten tracks that revolve around the pain and empty satisfaction that love and sex have provided over the course of his life. “Something About Me,” is a ticking time bomb of a song that could arguably be called the most “upbeat” track on the record, if only because it devolves into a spirited plea by the end, a payoff both moving and undeniably satisfying. Much of this album ‒ typified most notably by “Wait Forever” ‒ incorporates both clean, careful instrumentals and completely angry, unrestrained vocals and lyrics. Although it walks dangerously close to weak writing at times, the emotion and strange charm of the record elevates it from ever falling into silly “love stinks” desperation. Toward the latter half of the album, “Happiness Is an Art…” sees Van Witt at his most poetic and brooding, and his ability to pull off a song of this tempo and beauty testifies to his appreciable skill as a musician when you remember the more frantic rock songs of the first half. The final track on the album, “Wake Up Baby,” is a numb, shadowy song that completes the heart-wrenching saga Van Witt cycles through on Hard on Romance. Unfortunately, it feels just right.
That’s the heart and soul of this record: its ability to make you care. In ten songs, you’re brought through a dark, “oddly American” tragedy of loneliness and disappointment. It’s a sorrow that isn’t observed from afar, but truly felt by the listener. Rarely has an album title rung so painfully true.
MP3: Sidewalk Dave “Something About Me”