Chicago-based darkgaze trio Dehd deliver a stirring proclamation of nostalgia on their third album, ‘Flower of Devotion’.
Through two LPs and two EPs, Dehd have been unflinching in their throwback approach. From 2016’s self-titled album to 2019’s Water, the Chicago-based trio resurrected ’70s lo-fi, indie-rock and ’80s dream-pop. They opted to keep their music sparse, intimate, and raw, mimicking the approach perfected by The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith nearly a half-century ago. On their third album, Flower of Devotion, Emily Kempf (lead vocals/bass), Jason Balla (guitar/backing vocals), and Eric McGrady (drums) have gone more widescreen. The production is crisper, and the sound is richer and bolder. The nostalgia, however, remains. Or more accurately, Dehd further their mastery of all things dreamy, shoegaze-y, and enrapturing.
Flower of Devotion is a stirring proclamation of all things nostalgic. It pays tribute to the music of bygone eras, recalling the transformative eras of the ’70s and early ’80s. The nostalgia also extends to the trio often gazing in the rearview mirror and looking back at what was. The sweeping textures of “Desire” immediately reveal the band’s reflective nature and how they remain stuck in neutral. “Baby, I love you! I’m always thinking of you”, cries Kempf. Balla, meanwhile, replies back, “Will I still see you with fire in my eyes? See you walking and I know this is goodbye”. The playful vibes of “Haha” attempt to underscore the pain of a breakup with Kempf rationalizing to herself, “I know I loved you, too, but now that time has really passed”.
The psychedelic-Americana swagger of “Disappear” and the chiming “Nobody” further explore the aftermath of one’s newfound “independence”. The former is taken from Balla’s perspective, where he just wants to simply evaporate into thin air for the pain to go away. Kempf, meanwhile, longs to be seen again on the latter, only she realizes she must first reveal herself. On “Letter”, Dehd reach the pinnacle of the album’s central theme: despair in the midst of heartbreak. The song trembles with the dark radiance of Joy Division, and Kempf takes on the distant persona of Ian Curtis. She finally accepts her and her partner’s (in this case Balla) fate, saying one last farewell.
While many albums will focus solely on heartbreak, Dehd take the experience further by addressing the isolation that ensues. With Balla’s voice drifting to sublime places on the intoxicating “Month”, he reveals his unsteady state of mind. “It comes and it goes”, he repeats, as if he is simultaneously reliving memories. The gorgeous shoegaze ballad, “Flood”, sees Kempf wallowing in despair. While she seeks to change everything, she understands the past cannot be corrected.
Eventually, Kempf emerges from under the water and finds new life on “Loner”. The breezy track is a mélange of genres – a Peter Hook-like bass, a glittering guitar that echoes The Jesus and Mary Chain, and synth and rhythms that pulse like a lo-fi, bedroom version of New Order. Through the nostalgic noise, Kempf tells all and reminds herself that, “I’m fine, I’m fine”.
The actual awakening occurs on the album’s final two songs, although their messages give hints of the opposite. With McGrady assuming lead vocals, the band return to their Velvet Underground roots on “Apart”. Through his deep baritone, McGrady claims, “I feel myself falling apart”. Growing old is the new battle, but Dehd have finally overcome the emotional anguish that has gripped them. The rapturous “Flying” is the band accepting their fate. It is the band understanding that they can still love one another, give everything to each other, and be lifelong friends. They can be family. And that is a nostalgic ideal we can all strive to achieve today. A nostalgic ideal that should be immortalized, much like this special album.
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