Whenever I listen to Dehd’s excellent new LP Flower of Devotion, I imagine that in some alternate timeline, I’d be stocking up on sunscreen and getting ready for a weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. There, I would have seen the Chicago trio play their first hometown show in support of the just-released sophomore effort. It would’ve been the kind of gig that had become a staple of Chicago summers where you watch a local band perform to their largest crowd ever nearly a half decade after you first saw them play a cramped dive bar. Every time I press repeat on this album, I realize there’s no universe where this show wouldn’t have been a highlight of my year.
Flower of Devotion isn’t a bummer. While it's a reminder of what could’ve been had there not been lockdowns and an indefinite pause on live music, it’s so undeniably great that it makes me hopeful for the future. It’s the best collection of the trio’s scrappy and jangly pop songs so far, with tracks like opener “Desire” and lead single “Loner” ambitiously filled with huge choruses and ample charm from bandmates guitarist Jason Balla, bassist Emily Kempf, and drummer Eric McGrady. On their last LP Water, they optimistically and cathartically explored the dissolution of Balla and Kempf’s romantic relationship but here, it’s a confident document of an evolving friendship and musical partnership.
Dehd’s biggest strength comes in the electric vocal interplay between Balla and Kempf. Though dressed in tons of reverb and clanging guitars, their songs boast harmonies that evoke classic 60s girl groups like the unfussy “Haha.” Kempf is an expressive and dynamic singer, able to reach a hair-raising yelp on the anthemic “Letter” or a softer coo like on the moody “Drip Drop,” and she's the perfect foil for Balla’s post-punk weathered drone on “Month.” The soft-spoken McGrady even lends his voice and lyrics to “Apart,” one of the LP’s clear highlights that grapples with the dread of getting older. Though Water was already a considerable leap from their early EPs, Flower of Devotion is an even bigger jump.
While Flower of Devotion is bursting with life and tangible energy on record, it’s the kind of music that’s best experienced live. Balla’s tenure with the now-defunct but still influential Chicago indie rock group NE-HI, and Kempf’s solo projects Vail, Heavy Dreams, as well as her stint in Lala Lala, have all been responsible for some of the most rewarding live shows I’ve ever seen. But together with McGrady, Dehd has been even more special. Though I’m sad I have no idea when I’ll see them perform again, Flower of Devotion is a salve until that time comes. Pre-order Flower of Devotion here.