Good songwriters write lyrics that feel like they are talking about you (or at least talking to you). The best songwriters do both. On Holy Shit, Davey Dynamite shows a rare ability to write powerful and relatable songs that address the concerns and describe the experiences that we all have. Even more impressively, he does this in the form of tight and concise folk-punk songs that brim with intensity and passion.
Davey Dynamite (real name: Dave Anians) hails from Chicago and has been using the pseudonym since 2010. Initially, he started out with a simple acoustic guitar, acting as an acoustic troubadour in the mold of Frank Turner or Billy Bragg (artists who looked to explain the intricacies and complexities of the human condition in new and intriguing ways). It’s something that he’s endeavored to emulate. Dynamite was soon embraced by the thriving and passionate Chicago folk-punk scene, and he developed a regular following. Holy Shit is his first album to feature a full band on every song, and despite their simple beginnings, the songs here lend themselves readily to fuller, more fleshed out arrangements. It also means that the emotional weight of the lyrics is matched by the heft and intensity of the band behind them.
Opener “Holy Shit” starts with a simple muted guitar that backs Dynamite’s crisp, clear singing style. It’s a style reminiscent of Conor Oberst in the way he blends clever, measured couplets together with ease. It’s a steady, unhurried opening until the crash and thud of the band kicks in. Like throwing a rock in a calm pond, he lets loose with barely restrained fury and spits out caustic lines as if they were toxic. It’s an aggressive, rebellious, and intense moment that is everything you could want from a punk album. The final line — “And I / am figuring out / this holy hell / this holy shit” — could apply to anyone. From teenagers to the elderly, it’s a universal truth, and its attitude echoes in the following song, “Rock and Roll”. Aside from being a stunning punk anthem, the track also acts as a call to arms for people to live in the moment and make everything they do matter in some way.
Dynamite isn’t afraid to address bigger issues. However, he explores them in the context of the more personal, localized nuances of everyday life, rather than looking to provide broad, sweeping social commentaries. For example, “Man Enough” rallies against homophobia but still acknowledges that he has been guilty in letting homophobic comments slide. His inertia in these situations clearly rankles, which has led him to challenge his behavior, something that comes across as very genuine and, more importantly, inspiring. The song also contains one of the most powerful lyrics on the album — “That every time a kid hears a synonym of gay / the barrel of a gun gets closer to a brain” — which he delivers with poignant anguish. It’s an impressive feat for a song to make listeners feel equal parts anger, frustration, and shame (especially when roused in under three minutes).
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Likewise, “July 4th” deals with the trauma of PTSD and comes across as a punk cousin of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. The songs draw you into the realities faced by many Americans who are living in the dark shadow of the flag. That makes the final payoff — “All I can sing / Is fuck the 4th of July” — all the more valid and relevant. It’s a refreshing antidote to the recent rabble-rousing cries of “Make America great again”.
Dynamite is clearly a very thoughtful and intelligent songwriter. His songs come across as hopeful yet world-weary, with a mix of youthful energy and lived-in maturity. They’re distinctly raw and personal, too, as if they have spent a lifetime being forged in his heart. The music itself is aided by bare-bones production that magnifies the potency of the songs, allowing them to burn brightly from their rough origins and feel well road-tested. They are filled with hooks and huge shout along choruses made to be bellowed along to in dark, sweaty clubs with your arm locked around a complete stranger. They are the type of choruses that unify a crowd. As a body of work, it sits somewhere between Against Me! and Frank Turner, with Ben Kweller’s ear for a melody.
The only criticism is that it’s over far too quickly, leaving the sense that Dynamite has much more to say; really, it’s akin to a jaw-dropping cliffhanger in an HBO drama. Holy Shit is a supremely confident album because there is no pretense behind it. Dynamite is a new voice for the masses.