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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Big dreams for Dear Havanah with debut album release

Published: January 30, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse-city-1-30-09_final_page_1_image_0002 Dear Havanah wants to be your friend.

In an age when so much rock music is steeped in cynicism and irony, it’s comforting to know a band that still seems dedicated to connecting with people and cares about its audience. “My dream is just to have our music impact people in a positive way, and why not extend that to as many people as possible?” says drummer Mike Blong.

Dear Havanah is a local pop rock quintet whose members include Brandeis junior Adam Ciminello (keyboard), and four Berklee students, Dan Htoo-Levine (guitar, vocals), Colin Healy (bass), Johnny Duke (guitar), and Mike Blong (percussion). The ensemble has close ties to Brandeis, having played several shows in Chums as well as on the WBRS live simulcast, the Joint. On February 12, the band will hold a release party for its debut album, “Chasing Butterflies” (Veggie Co. Records).

On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of sitting in on a rehearsal session at Adam’s apartment. What I found was a warm, laid-back atmosphere that mirrored the band’s vibe. The friendliness of the musicians seemed to underscore the sincerity of their mission to make music that appeals to everyday people.

“Our songs are about our relationships, our experiences in life,” explains Dan. “It’s the kind of stuff that people can easily relate to.” Statements like these are much-needed antidotes to the intentional obfuscation that has become almost de rigueur in certain circles of indie rock.

Ask the members of Dear Havanah to describe their music and you will probably get no closer to understanding the sound than by pressing the CD cover to your ears. Perhaps the band’s musical palette is so difficult to express because it’s so familiar to listeners. Evoking nineties alternative folk rock bands like Counting Crows and the Wallflowers, Dear Havanah is probably best understood as skillfully wrought pop music with rock instrumentation.

We could try to label the band’s sound and define it further, noting the easy funk phrasings that propel its melodies and structures that emphasize tension and release. But the most essential quality of the music is its accessibility. Pop music works best when melodies and motifs sound familiar and appeal to our prior musical experiences. This is Dear Havanah’s forte.

The album opens with “Relief,” a mid-tempo exploration of personal longing whose aching verses burst open into triumphant chorus of bright, harmonized vocals and guitar sprawl. This number serves as an excellent outlet for Htoo-Levine’s vocal styling, which call to mind a young Jeff Buckley.

“Burning World” is another highlight, emphasizing a steady driving rhythm and beautifully hummable vocal melody. Moreover, the song expresses a universal feeling of a youthful fear of change and growth. “One by one all my friends are leaving/pretty soon they’ll all be gone,” sings Htoo-Levine. The group’s ability to capture complex emotions in simple phrases is another achievement.

In the end, however, reading my words cannot effectively convey Dear Havanah’s mellifluous sound. Luckily, the album is available on iTunes,, or through the band’s website, Their myspace page,, also has updates on local shows. I’m sure you’ll find the band as personable and pleasant as I did.

Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?