Chicago indie rock trio Dehd have returned with an emotional bang. In 2019, the band (bassist Emily Kempf, guitarist Jason Balla, and drummer Eric McGrady) released Water, an album centered around the break-up of Kempf and Balla, who were in a relationship with each other. It’s an interesting backdrop for an album, with raw emotion oozing from every song. And it’s something also felt on the group’s third album, Flower of Devotion, which was released July 17 via Fire Talk.
But even though the general sound of the album is similar to its predecessor, Flower of Devotion is a tighter, more enjoyable album. The scars have healed a bit, but they’re still there obviously, and they are at the heart of Dehd and their songs.
On the surface, Dehd creates straightforward songs. Guitar, bass, and drums with a postpunk sound. Fairly short songs with short-and-to-the-point song titles. But the delivery of vocals—Kempf and Balla at times singing very separate, alternating parts, almost like a conversation, and other times singing as one—and use of emotion gives Dehd incredible depth.
This is immediately felt in the album’s opener, “Desire.” This song shows off Kempf’s vocal range, as she kicks off the song by belting “Baby! I love you” before Balla answers with the first verse. Kempf jumps back in repeating “Desire…desire” and then sings the second verse herself in a more toned-down fashion. Then it’s Balla’s turn to take the chorus of “desire!” before both of them sing, “Let me out! Let me out! Let me out!”
It’s impossible for this song to not stir some sort of feelings inside. It’s powerful in a very similar way to Water‘s “On My Side,” which I found absolutely heart-wrenching. “Desire” is Dehd at their best, and it’s easily one of my favorite songs on the record—and from 2020 overall.
Kempf rules the album’s second song, “Loner,” where she sings that she wants nothing more than to be alone, and near the end of the tune, she repeats “I’m fine, I’m fine.” This is a declaration from Kempf that she is not just OK with being alone; she embraces it. “Loner” may have been written before we all found ourselves in a period of isolation because of COVID-19, but it sounds right at home now.
Both “Loner” and “Haha” continue to show off Kempf’s vocal range, moving from melancholy to dreamy and strong. And “Haha” is a great example of how Kempf and Balla alternate vocal parts to make it seem like the two are having a conversation. It’s such unique way to listen to a song—it reminds me of The White Stripes’ “Well It’s True That We Love One Another”—and Dehd has perfected this effect.
My favorite song on Flower of Devotion is “Drip Drop.” As opposed to an alternating vocal-type song, “Drip Drop” features both vocalists singing together in interlocking parts—complementing each other perfectly. Kempf and Balla sing completely separate portions that just fit together in an amazing fashion. There’s no other way to put it: this song is flat-out mesmerizing. It gives me vibes of Beach House’s “Levitation,” one of my favorite songs of all time. Yes, this song is that good.
Dehd rounds out the first half of Flower of Devotion with two more incredibly strong songs. “Month” is more of a collaborative tune, with Kempf and Balla singing together in harmony. It’s another song that is beautifully sad and dreamy sounding. The harmonies near the end of the song pull on those heart strings for sure.
“Disappear” is one of the catchiest songs on Flower of Devotion. Its chorus of “Do you wanna disappear?” has been stuck in my head for days. This song features a bunch of “ooh!”s from Kempf, something she does a lot of on the album, but they shine in this song, providing the perfect accents.
The second half of the 13-song album does not grab me as much as the first, but still features some great tunes, like “Letter” (I wonder if this is some sort of continuation of Water‘s “On My Side,” which sings “Letters stop, let me know, if you’re coming back again…”), “Nobody,” and “Moonlight.”
“Apart,” as the name would imply, is a sad tune that actually features McGrady on lead vocals and Kempf and Balla backing things up. It’s a beautiful song that also brings out those feelings that Dehd seems to be in tune with.
Dehd has released something special with Flower of Devotion. It’s full of emotion and beauty, and it seems to be hitting the mood I’ve been in lately just right. Give this one your attention—you won’t be disappointed!