Recommended if you like: Gallant, Majid Jordan, Glass Animals, The Weeknd, Miguel
Sept. 5th, the debut album by dvsn (pronounced “division”), showcases a perfectly orchestrated mix of Daniel Daley’s captivating vocals and producer Nineteen85‘s talent for creating concise and arresting R&B. Released on OVO Sound on April 1st, the highly-anticipated album formally introduces dvsn to the music scene as a powerful duo – one that doesn’t hide behind the emerging trend of auto-tuned, electronic trap that has lamentably been classified under “R&B” since it took off a few years ago. Though many would be quick to file Sept 5th as a record strictly for the bedroom, that assumption underestimates the album’s diverse, expansive soundscapes. While Daley’s voice effortlessly embraces every seductive turn on tracks like “Too Deep” and “Another One,” Nineteen85’s experimental production pays off and manages to keep the tracks fresh with fragments of unexpected, exciting influences. The duo’s entrance into the genre is just as direct as their come-hither lyrics. With Sept. 5Th, there is no mistaking that dvsn aim to do justice to the classic R&B that seems to have lost its way.
The pair have had an interesting couple of months preparing for the album’s unveiling. The world got their first glimpse when “With Me” was played on Apple Music’s OVO Sound Radio station on, ironically, September 5th of last year. Very little information was given about who was behind the brilliance, and the decision to maintain anonymity was accused of being a marketing ploy aimed at keeping today’s instant-gratification generation in an uncomfortable state of anxious curiosity. Whether this is true or not, it worked to their advantage. Two more songs were released in December: “Too Deep” and the instant-classic, “Hallucinations,” to critical acclaim and a growing fanbase. Ever since Queen Bey’s unforgettable album drop in 2013, many artists have benefitted from the “surprise-attack” method of releasing their music. It keeps the industry in public anticipation of their next move and, especially for artists like dvsn, lets the music speak for itself.
Listen: “With Me” – dvsn
The album’s opener, “With Me,” sets the tone with a strong, catchy bass line that means business. It leaves listeners with absolutely no doubt that they’re in for a sultry ride. As the harmonies brush against Daley’s crisp falsetto, the bass pulls you deep under every layer. It isn’t long before you are completely submerged in the track. Over a silky chorus reminiscent of Aaliyah, Daley’s voice pushes itself to the limit, unafraid to venture away from the traditional smoothness R&B is known for and into scratchier, more impulsive territory. In a fitting introduction to the album’s journey, “With Me” finishes off much darker than the song’s initial impression. It incorporates classic OVO features, such as the pitch manipulation that can be found on many of Drake’s songs, but especially “Tuscan Leather,” and the spacey, Prince-style guitar of Majid Jordan’s “Something About You.” “With Me” acts as perfect setup for dvsn’s unique combination of the romance of traditional R&B and the grit of Toronto’s underground.
Nineteen85 did a truly commendable job of producing sonically diverse tracks while also maintaining a consistent overall sound for dvsn that will allow Sept. 5th to stand out and identify itself amongst the myriad other electro-R&B projects. It’s the album’s lyrical variety, however, that could use some expansion. “Do It Well” hovers topically around the artist’s confession of sex as therapy without fully diving into the darker corners of the issue. “In + Out” features a supremely crafted chorus with distorted hooks similar to Daft Punk or Snoop Dog in “Sensual Seduction.” It starts out as an interesting combination, the mix of old-school hip-hop with Daley’s smooth, slow vocals, but the flame dies out far too quickly for this one. The tracks simmers down to an indulgent vocal riff and never brings itself back to quite the same sweet spot. As the album’s namesake track, “Sept. 5th” is unfortunately forgettable, perhaps because the lyrics are so uninterestingly direct, but also because it never reaches the climax that the rest of the tracks achieve. The pulse of its warped, psychedelic guitar serves instead as a segue into the album’s stand-out single, “Hallucinations.”
With a gospel choir for background vocals and a hauntingly grand chorus, “Hallucinations” is a stunning vision of the talent that lies at dvsn’s core. The track is well-rounded, with a now-unmistakable beat that doesn’t overshadow Daley as he navigates through his longing for a lost relationship. As one of the most lyrically complex songs on the album, “Hallucinations” battles with self-doubt and the recognition of an inner struggle that persists even though time should have healed the wound by now. What sets the track apart is its maturity, evident in its discussion of actual feelings and emotions, rather than temporary urges. Here, dvsn achieves the depth that “Do It Well” misses.
You, you, fall asleep and dream of
You, you, late at night I scream for
You, you, waiting on a deja-vu
But until then
I live with Hallucinations
Listen: “Hallucinations” – dvsn
Daley’s reaction to the memories of his loved one is visceral, not only because of its universal appeal, but also because “Hallucinations” provided dvsn an opportunity to dig deep into the grit of a track. The emotions are amplified by Daley’s voice as it scratches and strains to overcome his grief, most notably in the second verse. Although the voice distortion on Sept. 5th is one of its characteristic features, it’s these raw moments in “Hallucinations” that bring the album’s bravado back down to earth and reveal Daley’s talent as admirably human. It’s likely that his voice is strong enough to sing those notes perfectly, but because he didn’t, we feel the intensity of his yearning more deeply. It adds depth to his character as a performer and is another example of that which sets him apart from the rest of the pack, who are too busy trying to keep their cool behind an unaffected persona.
The generation that saw OVO emerge out of its Toronto nascence has also borne witness to R&B in its transition to the much larger space that dvsn so perfectly embodies. There are moments on Sept. 5th that reach out and ring true for this generation as it works out the social and cultural shifts that come with the changing of the times. The album’s use of low, industrial synths has drawn comparisons to the soundtrack of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, especially on “Try/Effortless.” The celestial synths tighten and release over the course of the track, a surprising and unique complement to lyrics that speak to the very human challenge of overcoming fear in order to grow and in this case, love. “Try/Effortless” explores the disconnect between sex and love that has come to characterize millennial relationships. Lyrics like “Running after love is the last thing that I’d do” compete with the track’s dark, quickening ascent, steadily building before a release that ends in Daley’s surrender. He is left with the realization that in order for the relationship to work, it may require him to break his own rules and accept his vulnerability in going further with this person. The urban dating scene is equally fast-paced and often portrayed as ill-suited to commitment, a sea of fish so infinite that it allows you to leave the emotions out of the picture. “Try/Effortless” grapples with the pressure to keep up with this depiction – until the right reasons not to do so present themselves.
“Try/Effortless” explores the disconnect between sex and love that has come to characterize millennial relationships.
One of the most exciting qualities about Sept. 5th is that it showcases dvsn’s expansive ideas of what R&B can be. Whether it’s the traditional soul of “Angela,” the warm bass line of “With Me,” or the space-age love song that is “Another One,” the album touches on an impressively wide range of influences without making a mess of the final production. In a righteous conclusion to Sept. 5th‘s journey, “The Line” starts out clean and unfussy with the same precision that the rest of the songs achieve. Daley’s voice cascades upwards and is soon joined by a powerful bass and another pulsating choir. Yet, by the last note, it unravels to new depths, exposing Daley as he confronts “The Line” that has plagued him on the preceding songs. While it may have taken several songs to warm up to it, dvsn finally let their guard down and cross the line into blissfully unfamiliar territory. Sept. 5th is thus just a peek into the capabilities of these immensely talented artists and their plans for a genre reborn.