Album Review: Dehd – “Flower of Devotion”

Posted: by The Editor

Since forming in 2015, Chicago’s Dehd has felt like a presence on the periphery of their scene. While their prior releases had garnered them some praise, they hadn’t fully broken out. Those two records, 2016’s Dehd and 2019’s Water, were full of bright spots and solid rock songs but felt unpolished. The band, composed of NE-HI and Earring’s Jason Balla, Lala Lala member Emily Kempf, and drummer Eric McGrady, they’ve had many years to perfect their craft. On Flower of Devotion, their third full length, they have done just that and found a winning formula. That moment they’ve waited for has finally arrived.

Their music falls somewhere under the vast umbrella of “indie rock”, and then when filtered down, under the smaller umbrella of “post-punk”, but it’s difficult to completely assign them either descriptor. They’re gifted musicians, but unpretentious. They don’t fall into the same dour self-seriousness that is the calling card of many post-punk bands.

Their guitar tone feels like a callback to an era where Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing stomped around the music industry landscape, leaving surf rock in their wake. This particular guitar tone, and style, is especially potent on the spectacular “No Time.” That song feels as if Balla had reached through a crack in time and taken the chords from Beach Fossils’ “What a Pleasure,” balled them up, and threw them around a racquetball court. 

Despite coming up amongst a wave of similarly post-punk adjacent acts, Dehd stands out among their peers for a few reasons. Foremost, the sheer talent of Emily Kempf. Comparing Kempf’s vocals to another Karen O feels like an understatement, her voice is deeper, richer. She uses it like a true performer, making it shrink at moments of vulnerable emotion, or showing you just how big it can get, but always projecting like a Broadway heroine. We get a taste of just how big Kempf can go right from the start. Tracks like “Desire” and “Loner” showcase her passion, and her incredible capacity for belting. “Loner” is rife with lines like “I’ve had enough of each other / want nothing more than to be a loner” that practically beg for theatrical delivery. 

Contrast that with the band’s other vocalist, the guitarist Jason Balla. Where Kempf sounds deeply invested in every line, Balla’s vocal tone sometimes reads as uninterested. That’s not a dig, either. His delivery feels in line with vocalists like Thurston Moore. The contrast keeps things fresh and stops the record from ever getting same-y. 

Dehd also stands out amongst its peers for its aforementioned lack of self-seriousness. It’s hard to imagine other bands in the genre making a song like “Haha”, a song about Balla and Kempf’s past relationship most memorable for its use of a mouth clicking sound. The two vocalists trade lines back and forth, discuss their prior romance openly and in front of us like they’re Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and this is ”Islands in the Stream.” It sounds intimate enough that you can practically hear their eye contact. 

Flower of Devotion propels Dehd from promising upstart to proven talents. They’ve found their footing, uncovered the things that make them exceptional, and expanded on aspects of their craft already proven successful. This is the type of band that should be opening every legacy indie band’s tour this year, and in another timeline, they are opening for Wild Nothing, proving they can rival their sonic forefather. 

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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