Dehd 2024
Photo: Atiba Jefferson / Orienteer

Dehd Take Yet Another Step Forward on ‘Poetry’

Dehd exude a youthful charm that is hard to replicate on Poetry. They are infectious and their sunny melodies and sincerity make their music compelling.

Fat Possum
10 May 2024

Poetry, Dehd‘s follow-up to Blue Skies (2022), takes their sound another step forward, as they have done with each successive record. The album was largely written on a road trip that took them from Washington’s Bainbridge Island to Taos, New Mexico. They regrouped in their home base in Chicago and recorded the LP with co-producer Ziyad Asrar. The result is that four albums in Dehd continue to deliver their signature sound while evolving slightly in some positive ways.   

The three-piece piece act of Emily Kempf (bass guitar, vocals), Jason Balla (guitar, vocals), and Eric McGrady (drums) conceal their complexity behind seemingly simple instrumentation. Dehd’s deception is that they often build sophisticated sound structures upon contrasting parts (“Mood Ring”, “So Good”). At any time, they can drop the entire weight of their music for maximum impact (“Alien”, “Light On”). Poetry is three musicians locked in but also willing to expand the confines of their sound. 

At its core, Poetry delivers what listeners have come to know and love. The lead single, “Mood Ring”, is a patchwork of disparate elements that accentuates Dehd’s singularity. It begins with distorted guitar and pounding drums, then transitions into a sunny melody driven by Kempf’s unique, at times nasally vocal stylings. The song segues into Balla’s straightforward, hip affectation before overlapping the parts. Through all the twists and turns, somehow, it works. 

Like many of Dehd’s songs about relationships, “Light On” contains a story arc about miscommunication, separation, and the hope of reconciliation. It is a simple track built upon a snare drum—which one can envision McGrady playing at his stand-up kit—and a three-note pattern. The fleshed-out chorus and lyrical repetition give some urgency, a tool Dehd apply to perfection.   

Dehd are endearing, which is one of their most charming qualities. In “Alien”, Kempf discloses that she’s “from another world” and “not a normal girl” but looking for somebody just for her. The polyphonic chorus, sung by Kempf and Balla, is touching in its vulnerability: “Hope this love can take me higher (Hold my head, hurt me harder) / I’ve been watching, catching fire (Love can’t win if there’s no power).” Similar to “Pure Gold,” where the two sing together, the contrasting parts become complementary. 

Dehd’s biggest challenge is to avoid becoming self-referential due to their unique style, especially as they mine the recurring moods of angst, intimacy, and tenderness. If asked what they sound like, the natural response would be to say they sound like Dehd. That is a concern for any band that has developed an original quality, a few of whom are obvious influences in the Jesus and Mary Chain and Animal Collective. Sonically, they have stood out amongst their peers and closer listens should reveal the depth and breadth of their sound.  

Some of the newer elements they’ve incorporated keep Poetry from stagnating. Opener “Dog Days” has a punk spirit that could just as well get the party started as a montage for the entire summer. Standout “Hard to Love” presents a wide-open landscape and features tropes like “Give me someone rough and tumble / Someone hard to love”, with Kempf shifting between country twang and yodel. It stretches their jangle pop sound about as far as it will go. 

Even when some efforts fall flat, at least Dehd take a certain amount of risk. “Shake” is underdeveloped and only really invites a comparison between Kempf and the Cure‘s Robert Smith; “Dist B” begins with Balla’s breezy guitar playing, similar to that of Luna, but it segues into a discordant solo that chafes against the melody; and “Knife” is overly emotive and unwieldy. Still, these attempts nearly work, and Dehd should at least be applauded for their vision. 

Dehd exude a youthful charm that is hard to replicate. In short, they are infectious. Their sunny melodies and sincerity go a long way to making their music compelling, and that is the case whether they are playing in their comfort zone or expanding their craft incrementally. Poetry is another stellar effort in Dehd’s development; one can envision greater things for them yet to come.    

RATING 8 / 10