Daniel Daley's voice would fit well on most major hits, and Nineteen85 knows his way around a massive single; that said, dvsn's first full-length effort is less than the sum of its parts.
You know the drill: Mysterious R&B outfit from Toronto releases foggy singles, receives the vaunted Drake co-sign, and then showcases what a full-length release would sound like. Unfortunately, this is a prime exercise in the law of diminishing returns. There can even be an equation made for the length of time the names of those involved remain mysterious relative to the quality of the music release. After all, Abel Tesfaye held out the longest before being revealed as the force behind the Weeknd, and then came Jahron Brathwaite as the singer and producer behind PARTYNEXTDOOR. It's a bit surprising, then, that there was a relatively quick turnaround from singles to revelations for dvsn’s Nineteen85 and Daniel Daley. In that descending order, too, is the all-important rankings of their music. The context is inevitable, and dvsn’s debut album, Sept. 5TH, is disappointing as a result.
Contrary to the Weeknd’s "All that money, the money is the motive", dvsn’s take on sex is idealistic. "And you don’t get down for the money, it’s all for the love," Daley croons on opener "With Me". At seven minutes, however, the unchanging beat dictated by a syrupy bass guitar drones into monotony. The best long-form songs of myriad R&B derivative genres feature production that is as active as the songs’ subject matter; here, the beats often act as a lulling mechanism. Nineteen85’s ubiquitous Drake productions (namely on "Hold On, We’re Going Home" and "Hotline Bling") are constructions with deliberate motion. There is an evident stagnation throughout Sept. 5TH, something that even the frequent trilling hi-hats cannot correct.
While the beats often falter, however, there are commendable manipulations of the album’s vocals. In his FADER article about Nineteen85, Nick Sylvester notes Nineteen85's parents’ affinity for Christian music. Like any good church choir, Daley’s falsetto swirls with a backing chorus during some of the project’s highest moments. On the album’s most complete single, "In + Out", however, a minimalist vocal performance occurs on the chorus, presumably alluding to the chorus of D’Angelo’s "Left and Right"; there’s even prayer imagery when he’s "kneeling by your body".
On the spectrum of attitudes towards sex, dvsn trends away from the Weeknd’s matter-of-fact view that the act is performed by people simply looking to gain something for themselves. Instead, there’s an underlying intimacy throughout the project, like on "Another One" (no relation to DJ Khaled), such as when Daley utters, "Sometimes we take our clothes off / And find the naked truth." The album closes with their clearest statement on it yet, understanding that such intimacy is a line that, once crossed, cannot be retread (such is why the strongest production is that which contains an understated simplicity).
Overall, there is no outside-text. dvsn and Sept. 5TH exist wholly within the same universe that produced the undeniable classic House of Balloons, and as such, it must be evaluated by what the sonic heights could be. Without a clear single that seems to transcend the work as a whole, the project is certainly one made with the intention of being listened to as an album. Unfortunately, this is where the weaknesses are greatest. As a whole, it eschews the current R&B trend of existing within multiple genres or creating a genre unto itself, and the collection is unengaging because of it. This is not to say that Daley’s voice won’t lend itself to some radio-ready hits in the future, or that Nineteen85 doesn’t know his way around a massive single; it's just that for their first full-length effort as a team, the sum was not greater than its parts.