Blue Skies by Dehd album review by Leslie Ken Chu for Northern Transmissions

Fat Possum Records

8

Dehd

Blue Skies

What do you do when the world spins out of control? You try your best to slow down and centre yourself before marching on. That’s what Dehd have done on Blue Skies, the Chicago rock trio’s Fat Possum debut and third album to date. Its predecessor, the sharp and spunky Flower of Devotion, sprouted from chaos and premiered during the tumultuous summer of 2020, when global anxiety over the pandemic and the increasingly commonplace catastrophes of climate change and political unrest raged with particular volatility. Although those storms have yet to pass, Blue Skies finds the band picking up the pieces and building towards a brighter future.

Dehd’s more optimistic outlook comes across in Blue Skies’ unhurried tone. They tamp down their former urgency in service of their most sophisticated songwriting yet and cast their once glowering, snappy songs in supple synthesizers, which appear unaccompanied by anything except vocals on “Control.” Alongside dreamily strummed guitar and hanging piano chords, synths dapple “Hold,” evoking soft-focus, featherweight pop like Nation of Language. Synths also flood through “Window” like rays of sunlight, just one instance where Dehd skilfully fill sonic space without bloating it with unnecessary detail.

Whether bassist Emily Kempf or guitarist Jason Balla takes the lead on vocals, their narrators are as ready to dive headlong into love as they are patient in taking their time doing so. On the glistening “Bad Love,” possibly Dehd’s most beautiful song, her old wounds have healed, and she’s ready to embrace new love; “Bad Love” burns bright with her desire. On the aptly named, onomatopoetic “Bop,” she acknowledges, “I know, I know now’s not the time / For sure, for sure I’m gonna wait my turn.” And amidst the slow-rolling thunder of “Clear,” she exercises even greater restraint: “My feelings are a tender thread / I’m trying hard / Trying hard / Not to get ahead of this.” (Although, she betrays her declaration, gushing, “I’m half way home when I look at ya.”)

None of that is to say Dehd take just any love they can get. “Over kissing strangers / I want to kiss a friend,” Kempf nearly sighs on “Empty in My Mind.” But the throbbing track is more than just an anthem celebrating friends with benefits—it’s a song that seeks secure, trusting intimacy. Blue Skies’ carpe diem spirit extends beyond love. In Kempf’s signature stuttering vocals, she urges one to dance on “Stars.” “You know you gotta cut loose / You got nothing left to lose,” she insists. But it’s album closer “No Difference” that sums up everything Blue Skies is about. “Some days I think I’m gonna quit / Then some days I’m glad I never did / A million miles left to go / Where we’re going I don’t know / Makes no difference anymore.” In any other context, these words ring hopeless, but heard with the rest of Blue Skies, they’re freeing. “This is all we get / Let’s take the risk!” Kempf and Balla encourage in the album’s final breath.

Blue Skies is also notable for its sound quality. Balla took the album as an opportunity to sink his teeth into production. Though every individual member has benefited from his technical explorations, perhaps none came out sounding finer than Eric McGrady. But of course, that owes first and foremost to his prowess as a drummer—he hits harder and in more inventive patterns, in concert with copious drum machines, on Blue Skies than he has on Dehd’s past records.

Whereas Flower of Devotion captured the precariousness and uncertainty of the last two years, on Blue Skies, Kempf, Balla, and McGrady have found solid ground beneath their feet. Now they revel in all that has remained and everything they have to look forward to, even if they have to build it themselves.

Pre-order Blue Skies by Dehd HERE