It’s not often that the video for a song opens the door to discovering a band for me. That is exactly what happened when I seen the video for ‘Loner’ by garage pop punks Dehd. The Chicago trio—bassist-vocalist Emily Kempf, guitarist-vocalist Jason Balla, and drummer Eric McGrady weave a heady mix of surf rock, shoegaze and heart wrenching balladeering. Honest to a fault their lyrics are an open book. Their previous album, Water, dealt the aftermath of the break up between Kempf and Balla. Their latest album, Flower of Devotion, moves to what comes next. The healing, the processing of that loss and ultimately the rediscovering of yourself.
The album kicks off with the pounding “Desire”. As an intro to the band you couldn’t ask for a better song. The contrast between the sheer versatility and power of Emily’s vocal lead contrasts beautifully with Jason’s cool as you like delivery.
Emily takes the lead on “Loner”. Her voice is this bands secret weapon. It’s so dynamic. Jason’s guitar tone and Eric’s simplistic and steady drumming being the other key components. It has that reverb swamped feel of late 60’s crooners but it feels modern at the same time. Context is everything. Check out the video for this one here.
‘Haha’ is a short ditty patently about the break up. “All I know is I love you. All I know is cry, cry, cry” sings Kempf in the choruses and Balla responding “Well I loved you with all that I had”. There’s no masking the emotional wounds in obtuse lyrics here. That is the power of this album, its direct route straight to the heart.
‘Drip Drop’ slows the pace with Jason taking the lead and Emily’s textured backing lifting the choruses. A trick that is employed equally as effectively on ‘Month’ following. Patently a lot of work has gone in to finding the perfect balance between these two unique styles of singing. It has certainly paid dividends.
This vocal interplay is mixed up further in ‘Disappear’. With Emily singing a slick counter melody to Jason’s slacker drawl it’s a perfect pairing. With that trio of tracks done we are treated to ‘Flood’ and Emily showing us what she capable of. The way she enunciates the title sends shivers down your spine. Jason too, is on fire with glorious and atmospheric guitar work.
The open wounds of the now broken relationship are laid bare in the next track ‘Letter’. It is essentially an open letter to any future girlfriends of Balla’s and plays it clever by couching that within a beautiful melody.
‘Nobody’s almost spoken lyric leads to a euphoric chorus about the search for someone or perhaps the search for yourself again. Constantly asking “When will it be mine” Emily uses her full vocal range to keep you tuned in. Time is also a factor in the next two tracks.
‘No Time ‘is a song out of time. This wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blondie setlist circa 1976 on stage at CBGB’s. The song has an energy and power that is derived both from Jason’s frenetic guitar and Emily’s impassioned delivery. ‘Moonlight’ on the other hand is Jason’s finest moment on the album. The switch of rhythm between verse and chorus is so clever and catches you out every time.
We haven’t spoken about Eric McGrady yet. His steady and minimalist drumming is the glue that holds these two fractured souls together. It’s with some surprise that we now hear him take the mic for his self-penned song ‘Apart’. An ode to aging he delivers it with an honesty and directness his band mates must be envious of.
The album closes with ‘Flying’. Once again acknowledging the end of their relationship and having to move on isn’t always easy.
Flower of Devotion is one of the most cohesive albums I’ve listened to in a while. The album has a stripped back to the bone sonic palette, leaving the vocal performances to do the heavy lifting. Luckily Dehd are adept in this area with three talented vocalists, each with their own unique style. The key thing is, no matter if they are singing about the break up of their relationships their voices will be in love forever.
Flower of Devotion is out now via the groups Bandcamp page and all good record shops.