It’s been said that love is the closest thing we have to magic. All consuming and ever present, it surrounds us every second of every day. These connections that we may not think too much about until all of the sudden it hits us, that knocks us off our feet at how much we feel towards another person. The sheer luck that brought them to you, the life-altering impact they have had on you. Whether it’s your best friend, your boyfriend, your parents, or the person you never got to tell, this love we feel and how we express it defines who we are. These relationships and realizations are the core of Chicago based supergroup Dehd's latest record Water.
Raining down on you, love can be a drizzle or a hurricane. Soaking your shoes, drenching your clothes, this fluidity is what Emily Kempf and Jason Balla found. Penned in the midst of their break up, Water pays homage to their transition from a couple to friends and creative partners. Alternating vocals and sharing songwriting responsibilities, complete vulnerability and pure emotion flow through both perspectives. From Kempf admitting “I want to be with you forever but I just can’t stop looking at another,” on the title track to Balla begging “tell me that you’re only going to think of me tonight/do you love me?” even as their relationship ebbs and flows their souls remain intertwined. Reflecting on the love that transcends and unites them, Kempf sings “lucky to have people in my life with the power to break my heart.” Thankful to experience the whole range of emotion that comes with being so invested and infatuated with someone, “Lucky” is a love song you could only write after the fact.
Awash with reassurance, Dehd never once doubts the love that guides them. Through all the missed calls, swallowed feelings, and times you wished you would’ve kissed them, the faith they have never falters. Believing whole-heartedly, Kempf affirms “time is on my side/I will be alright.” Repeating the line like a mantra throughout “On My Side,” there’s such an intense certainty behind her careful delivery that any hope you’ve lost is automatically restored. Even the grief that comes at the end of a relationship and the slow healing process of “Happy Again” feels like something to be grateful for, as it’s proof that you got to experience that straight shot of serotonin the album is centered around. While it’s not always easy and requires blind trust, bravery, and unwavering optimism, Kempf opens herself to it on “Lake,” asserting “love is a great big lake/love is heavy and deep/I am not afraid.” Shaking off those reservations, it is a reminder that love is not waiting for you on the shore, you need to dive right in head under, eyes shut.
Water is as simple as love itself. With Erin McGrady using a snare and a tom, Kempf with her bass, and Balla with a guitar, the three of them are the driving force of the album. With their bare-bones approach, the magic of Dehd lies in their delivery. Whether it’s the frantic untouched energy of “Wild” or the thin-yelps and tight sparse drumming of “Sunbeat,” there is a warmth that illuminates the whole album. Highlighting a chemistry that cannot be fabricated, there’s a genuine connection between the members that you only find once in a lifetime.
Water is an expression of all the things love can be. It is devastating and gentle. It is ever changing and the only constant. It is the reason we wake up in the morning, the thing we would risk everything to find, what we spend our whole lives seeking. Intangible, electric, magnetic, love is the best thing we do. You’ve heard it before but it’s only through Kempf’s raw delivery on “Lake” that it really resonantes, “true love conquers all.”