Published Jul 15, 2020Self-sufficiency, drive, motivation – concepts soured by a world that demands you pull everything from yourself and work until you find enlightenment in the work, or whatever passes for enlightenment on the top floor of a start-up. But listen to Chicago trio Dehd and you may find yourself believing again in the true power of determination. The band crafts songs that seem simple on first blush – guitar, drums and bass, a bit of synth here and there – but they vibrate with the inspiring energy of three people pushing simplicity into realms beyond through sheer will.
The entwined call-and-response vocals echo the spirit of the B-52s or Sleater-Kinney, bands carried by the friction of the voices at their centre. But where last year's Water stripped the trio's sound to its most basic elements, Flower of Devotion is lush and dewy – full of glowing synths and liquid guitar that take their previously grounded songs into the balmy night air.
Dehd's songs sound both genuinely new and softly timeless, like the shambolic indie classics of yore recast in molten silver. Jason Balla's vocal melody on "Month" recalls nothing more than Beat Happening's classic "Indian Summer," and the two songs share the same quietly buzzing August malaise. Calvin Johnson's legacy hangs over the record like a warm blanket – the rickety, tangled vocal rhythms of the Halo Benders, the straw-spun-gold simplicity of Beat Happening – it's all here in shades, sent spiralling through Dehd's chrome kaleidoscope.
Eric McGrady's steady, unflashy drumming is the band's beating heart, the pulse that keeps Balla's and bassist Emily Kempf's prickly chemistry in symbiosis. And while Balla's elastic guitar work remains unexpected and individual, it's Kempf's voice that lifts Dehd into the stratosphere. From the yodels that dot "Loner" to the rumbling bellows that drive opener "Desire," there are few rock singers using their voices quite like she is. She snaps and soars like a diving bird, each surprising choice adding limitless dimension to these sturdy songs. When she sings "I love you" on the plinking "Haha," Kempf's holler is tempered to a strained whisper, as if resigning herself to love's fragility.
Flower of Devotion is Dehd's biggest leap yet, further proof that they've captured something truly special in their triangle of sound. It's at once hopeful and longing, restrained and somehow extravagant in its melodies and passions – what they do so simply is no simple trick. (Fire Talk)