There’s sexy and then there’s sexy. You know: The kind of album that almost feels as though it was made strictly for people to get busy to. Married people. In love people. Those who are dating. Those who head out into the nighttime air, skin smelling like Vogue magazine ads, looking to drink pretty drinks and find someone with whom they can go home, if only for an evening. There are albums for these things.
Just ask R. Kelly.
Or, well, you can now also ask Canadian duo Dvsn (pronounced “Division”). Because with their debut LP, SEPT. 5TH, producer Nineteen85 and singer Daniel Daley re-up the ante on contemporary atmospheric, sex-fueled R&B, concocting songs that turn up the heat hotter than any Weeknd has been able to provide in recent memory, pretty drinks or not. These 10 songs bleed steam while creating the aura of a constant after-after-hours get-together lit by nothing more than neon lights and the sweat gleaming off promiscuous bodies.
It’s simple, but it’s sure as hell hot. Check the seven-minute opus that kicks off this unforgettable night, “With Me”. Sparsity is the name of the game, production levels plain but polished, passive but provocative. Daley’s voice is smoother than whipped cream and it doesn’t take long for him to find his seductive falsetto that exquisitely establishes the sensual tone this record unforgivingly exudes. Even as the chorus of female backing vocals lifts up his moaning sometime after minute five, there’s no mistaking how down (and dirty) this guy can get.
Part of the track’s secret weapon? A faded guitar riff that comes courtesy of Nineteen85, real name Paul Jefferies. Sound familiar? If not, it should: he’s the guy behind one of Drake’s more recent smashes, “Hotline Bling”. Somewhat of an overlooked soldier on the Ovo roster, he’s had a hand in producing hits for everyone from Juicy J to Nicki Minaj to Jennifer Hudson. And while Daley might be front and center with his textured, inescapable vocal chops throughout these 10 tracks, this record feels more like an exercise for Jefferies to stake his claim as one of pop-R&B’s more versatile minds.
And stake it he does. “Hallucinations” is a borderline brilliant slow-burn that takes the listener through all the turmoil wrestling with aberration can bring, and it does so more through the producer’s subtleties than it does the singer’s proclamations. No disrespect, of course — Daley spreads his high notes out with delicious anguish as the music opens up behind him — but a quick focus on how unbelievably scant the percussion is presented, and it’s hard not to see how imperative Jefferies’s work is to the dvsn equation. Because if all else fails, there’s a killer organ that lurks behind each second of this that provides uncanny ambiance.
Speaking of ambiance, “Try/Effortless” takes that milieu and adds a tiny bit of bounce. Perhaps the set’s most accessible offering, it’s driven by a combination of scatting snare hits and a bass line that sounds like it should have been the theme song for a 1986 television series set in Miami. It echoes in and out of attention while Daley’s cadence turns from desperate crooner to upstart hip-hop impresario with ease. When he explains how he’s “got rules, but I’m breaking them all for you, breaking them all for you,” there’s a blend of vulnerability that’s not unlike the sensitivity that made this duo’s boss famous.
It’s not all downtrodden, mind you. “Another One” takes that same Drive-soundtrack, synthed-out bass effect and throws an uptempo groove on top of it, complete with percussion that grants it two-step flare. Meanwhile, the title track hides nothing in terms of intention as Daley admits, “I could make it better/If I could have sex with you.” The rest of the dong carries on in that vein: on an album filled with all the feels feeling the feels, this is the spot where our protagonist sounds the most frustrated, both in lyric and emotion. The move works masterfully, creating a dichotomy between the weird urgency in voice and the woozy musical influences that surround it.
Interestingly, things work just as well when these guys decide to go the traditional route. “Angela” features live drums and — gasp! — a horn section, and it wouldn’t appear out of place on your favorite Jill Scott or Anthony Hamilton or Musiq Soulchild record. It’s a triumph of sound, a moment of fullness that disagrees with most of its predecessors in all the right ways. “The Line” then finds the sweet spot between that silly “neo” tag that feels so dated at this point, and where modern rhythm and blues currently sits, in its spaced out, futuristic corner of the musical landscape. Plus, at 7:12, it sums this collection up perfectly: it’s forward-thinking enough to be provocative, yet fundamental enough to be respected.
Therein lies the greatness of dvsn’s SEPT. 5TH. It’s fearless and essential. Someone recently made the observation on Twitter that these 10 songs should be enough to hold us over until the next Frank Ocean record and that’s not really all that wrong. The more you listen to it, the more you find, the more you appreciate. Jefferies knows how to create hella vibes and Daley knows how to make you feel them. In truth, it’s a minor match made in major R&B heaven.