Dehd Crack the Code on 'Poetry'

BY Dylan BarnabePublished May 8, 2024


There's nothing better than witnessing a band hit their stride in real time, and Dehd are doing just that. On their fifth album Poetry, the Chicago trio — Jason Balla, Emily Kempf and Eric McGrady — explore the duality of human feeling, the things that hurt so much but feel so good. Poetry is messy, unapologetic and vividly emotional. The band has described their latest as a soundtrack for "opening yourself up to all experiences." After listening to its kaleidoscopic 14 tracks, it's fair to find yourself cracked open.

Following the breakout success of 2020's Flower of Devotion, Dehd have positioned themselves as a veritable barometer of coolness. They are the pleasure seekers of the indie scene, whose carnivorous desire for human connection in all its forms knows no bounds. It feels almost hedonistic to indulge in the depths of these feelings, but Dehd maintain a level of optimism and innate curiosity that make it rewarding. "Everyone I know is breaking hearts tonight / Everyone I know is bleeding, but I know we'll be alright," Balla sings on opener "Dog Days." Blood, broken hearts and, ultimately, salvation await.

Poetry is the result of a winding road trip that saw the band pack up their recording gear and travel through New Mexico, Puget Sound, Montana and finally back through Chicago. Dehd's affinity for adventure translates effortlessly, as they charter the ephemeral highs and lows of being alive.

Balla, Kempf and McGrady approached recording differently this time around, with producer Ziyad Asrar being enlisted to helm the record alongside Balla. It marks the first time someone outside the band was involved in the recording process, and the shake-up coloured everything. Less concerned with occupying the roles they've played up until this point, the trio put an emphasis on experimentation — on "Magician," Balla even jumps on drums and McGrady tries his hand at bass. Dehd have always leaned into their shared friendship, and Poetry provides another avenue to explore their go-with-the-flow attitude, recapturing the feeling of starting fresh once again.

Instead of dwelling on the ineffable nature of life's many mysteries, Poetry revels in describing them in dirty detail. It's mini skirts, bad boys in fast cars, fake Gucci sunglasses and sneaking out the back door. It's exploring life outside heteronormative constraints ("Pure Gold"), flirting with sexy little angels ("Mood Ring") and guiding our loved ones home ("Light On").

Running complementary to these little idiosyncrasies are, of course, the bigger questions of what to do with all the hurt and emotional baggage accumulated along the way. Dehd have never been overly dogmatic — they're astute students of human behaviour, millennial anthropologists if you will. "I'm getting kind of smarter with each and every mistake," sings Kempf. "Where is the power? Is it in me? Is it in you?" They examine decisions and relationship dynamics critically, finding ways to mould their mistakes.

It's not a stretch to preemptively label Poetry 2024's record of the summer for the alternative crowd. It's fun, fresh and doesn't take itself too seriously. "Easy, breezy, ooh ya / We laugh so freely," sing Balla and Kempf on "Pure Gold." Dehd celebrate the messiness and ever-present intoxication of what it means to be alive, and they urge us to join them. Who are we to say no?

(Fat Possum)

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