Chicago’s Dehd has carved out a particular niche for themselves with their male/female vocal jumps, distinct guitar tones, and unnatural knack for melody. Their 2019 breakout, Water is a great little piece of alt-rock, even if in retrospect it reads like a warm-up to the unsung miracle of 2020’s Flower of Devotion. That record, did a much better job at balancing all of Dehd’s elements, highlighting the guitar and vocals and removing the charm of its lo-fi predecessors. It was a canny move for the band, and one that worked because the tracks were just that much better, the kind of unwieldy accomplishment that can define a career. As a follow-up with Blue Skies, Dehd has smartly switched it up, although maybe not enough as they could have.
Specifically on the lead-off track, “Control”, a song that gives Jason Balla a chance to flex his Sam France croon and strip off most of the instrumentation, but which relies a little too much on follow-up “Bad Love” to provide its closure on. At that point, the guitar eventually comes through on the album, albeit in muted form, with a newer more consistent focus on Eric McGrady’s drum work. Those changes give the album less jubilant energy, but one that matches the tone and themes of the record.
As opposed to a title like “Flower of Devotion”, “Control” yields a more nuanced understanding of love, and on most of these songs, the band opts for self-determination over chasing relationships. That gives the band more room for their songwriting and thus slows things down to better drive that point. It’s easy to forget just how well Dehd can sell a down-tempo track like “Palomino” and even easier to forget that those songs often work better than the singles. Even though the band is often restraining their yelping and the freneticism of their guitar leads, they’ve done that all plenty of times before. Control gives Dehd room to deepen their sets and expand their sound but most importantly lays the groundwork for an even better and more lush album that could follow.