It was the twilight of summer when I left the house on my now well-trained pandemic routine of taking myself on a walk – like a dog. However, unlike man’s best friend who typically fills the time by smelling his fellow furry friend’s backside, I use the time to go through my album backlog. With the 2nd season of Lockdown yet to be renewed by governments, and summer’s final rays still holding out long enough to top you up with sufficient Vitamin D to handle that god-awful ‘friend’, Rona, I stormed around Victoria Park to the delightful sounds of Emily Kempf. On this occasion, the Groundhog Day shackles had finally been broken, courtesy of indie trio Dehd and their latest album, Flowers of Devotion.
The band, made up of former lovers, Emily Kempf and Jason Balla (both vocalists), and ultimate 3rd wheel Eric McGrady, ventured into the studio for the first time and its impact is telling. Where the previous album, Water, left many disappointed by the lack of production, the trio have more than addressed this in Flowers of Devotion. Despite having a simplistic approach to their sound, it is a nostalgic but relevant evolution of the likes of Cocteau Twins.
For most, a failed relationship within a working environment can prove catastrophic, but Kempf and Balla have utilised their heartbreak to create a uniquely direct and original rock album. Against the backdrop of Beach Boys guitars, Kempf and Balla commence their screaming match at one another in Desire – both acknowledging the inevitability of their relationship’s demise: “Seen you walking, I know it’s goodbye/ These are long days, that are longer at night.”
Loner, the album’s second track details the subsequent exasperation with the anguish that someone formerly so loved can bring: “I’ve had enough of each other/ Want nothing more than to be a loner.” Rather than despair, Kempf declares it proudly and defiantly, so much so that you find yourself nodding in agreement. The past year’s pandemic and its lockdowns make Kempf’s defiance even more fitting.
The album is a showcase of Kempf’s vocal talents and range. It is punctuated throughout with click-clocks in Haha to the growls in the excellent Steve Nicks-esque Flood. The bassist’s vocal performance in No Time is akin to a performance from the Godfather of Soul in parts.
While it is increasingly common to see rock bands embrace heavy levels of production and venture more into the electronic space, the simplicity of Dehd’s approach – nothing more than two guitars and half a drum set – pays homage to the power of their own storytelling. By allowing this storytelling to take centre stage and executing it through uniquely open therapy between two former lovers, Dehd have created one of the best rock albums of the year.