There is no doubt that art imitates life. Over the last several years musicians have chosen a variety of ways to reflect our experience of this pandemic world. Some have approached the apocalyptic world we are living in by highlighting the madness of our collective journey. Others want to help the world burn. And very few choose to address the current challenges with optimistic possibility. On their latest album Blue Skies, Chicago trio Dehd take the latter approach, walking towards doomsday with eyes wide open and smiles on their faces.
On Blue Skies, Dehd build on and even improve upon the sound of their previous album Flower of Devotion. This isn’t to suggest that Flower of Devotion needed fixing. It was one of the best albums of 2020. Instead it is to say that they took the incredible sonic world created on that album and expand it through further genre exploration and additional synth instrumentation.
The indie-rock with pop sensibilities that Dehd personifies gets amplified even further on Blue Skies. The sound is triumphant. The vocals are positively declarative. Each of the band members, Emily Kempf, Jason Balla, and Eric McGrady, pulls double duty between and instrument and lead vocals, so the tracks have unique flavors depending on who leads. Emily’s bravado on “Bad Love” accompanied by Eric’s thump-thump drumming sounds like a long-lost Springsteen classic. “I was a Bad Love! Now I got a heart full of redemption!” Jason Balla conjurs up his inner Jim James throughout the album, drawing comparisons with My Morning Jacket’s most jubilant psychedelic elements. And Eric’s baritone with the heavily present bass groove adds post-punk elements into the mix.
There’s also a present whammy-echo effect used on the guitar that draws them into the realm of surf-rock at times, which seems wholly paradoxical coming from the Windy City. And yet if you’ve ever had the pleasure of walking down Lake Shore Drive during a warm day in the summer, you’ll know that Chicago has more to offer than cold and snow.
The album features several dazzling moments of dueling vocals between Jason and Emily. Songs like “Dream On” and “Memories” display a vocal simpatico that makes Dehd so endearing. And the staccato stutter on “Stars” brings the exuberance of 80’s mall punk bands like the Go-Go’s into the modern era.
At first, the diverse influences and sounds on Blue Skies might seem like a confusing mess. How could surf-rock guitars, new-wave basslines, Bruce Springsteen anthemic verses, and triple vocal attack with such unique voices work together? I don’t know what inspired Dehd to tap into this formula, but it works with brilliant cohesion.
As the world continues to stare down a future filled with unknown and frightful possibilities, Blue Skies is the album we need right now to remind us that we can do hard things with heads held high. Blue Skies comes out on Fat Possum records Friday, May 27th. Stream the album HERE and follow Dehd on Instagram.