New album, old sound for dvsn
Owen Lane | Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Canadian hip-hop duo dvsn (pronounced “division”) have returned only 18 months after the release of their solid debut album, “SEPT. 5th.” The first album’s sound oozed with the velvety smooth style of vocalist Daniel Daley and the utterly consistent beats from Toronto producer Nineteen85. On the new album, “Morning After,” dvsn continues to provide the sound that made their first release so compelling.
Nineteen85, who has produced the atmospherically high-charting Drake singles “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Hotline Bling,” is a fantastic fit for Daley’s deeply heartfelt vocals. While Drake’s Nineteen85-produced hits were excellent love songs fastidiously engineered for Billboard-charting success, even dvsn’s most popular songs lack any pretense of swagger. The songs are infused with a passion so unguarded that “Morning After” borders on insecure. While the songwriting itself can be lacking in originality, Daniel Daley’s singing can be just as good as that of Miguel, Drake or even Frank Ocean.
A nagging drawback to this record cannot be ignored, however. dvsn’s greatest misstep with “Morning After” is the record’s utter lyrical homogeneity. The album proves to be one long musical treatise on love, heartbreak and relationships. Perhaps the record would be more satisfying if it did not follow a debut equally transfixed with romantic relationships. Obviously R&B, and music generally, has always suffered from a glut of love songs. However, it is difficult to completely respect an artist so explicitly focused on only one thing. Imagine if Pusha T only made songs about dealing drugs or if J. Cole pushed his underdog narrative on every track. The best artists need to be as adventurous in their lyrical content as they are willing to be in their production and formal experimentation. dvsn simply pale in comparison to artists like Sampha and Frank Ocean who know how to mix their lovelorn passion with lyrics that stray beyond the realm of romantic relationships.
Despite the album’s unsatisfying lyrical progression, dvsn’s sound remains hypnotizing and transcendent. The duo’s 2016 track “With Me” stood out as a seven-minute R&B opus that combined catchy, inventive production with a stunning vocal performance from Daniel Daley. On “Morning After,” Nineteen85’s production is even more ambitious. On “Keep Calm,” sounds echo, fade in, fade out and rise to dramatic crescendos which combine into cathedral-sized walls of sound. “P.O.V.” features a beat more reminiscent of hip-hop, with high-hat and snares combined with intriguingly foreign vocal samples scattered throughout. On “Mood,” Daley booms over a more spare and subdued beat, impressively flexing his vocal chords. Time and time again on this record, Nineteen85 showcases his remarkable talent for pulling listeners back into his music just when they begin to tune it out. Sometimes he does this with vocal samples, short skits between tracks or noises that sound like they came straight from old Nintendo games.
dvsn exists in a fortuitous place within their genre. Their sound contains trace amounts of the sonic qualities of current giants like Drake or Post Malone, yet they offer an undeniable authenticity that many of their contemporaries lack. On closing track “Conversations in a Diner,” Daley sings about a couple having that fateful final talk surrounded by a room full of people ambling through the routine of their lives. I cannot remember a time that an R&B track conveyed such raw pathos and insecurity. With the soft yet insistent patter of drums and bright piano chords, dvsn are jilted, desperately struggling to convince their lover to stay, all while an indifferent and unaware crowd surrounds them. The lyrics paint a recognizable picture of embarrassment, pain and blinding emotions. Tracks this vivid are difficult to come by in any genre. Next time you go to play something from “More Life,” “Views” or “Wildheart,” listen to some dvsn instead. At their best, when the duo bares it all, the result is mesmerizing.
Album: “Morning After”
Label: OVO Sound
Favorite Track: “Keep Calm”
If you like: Drake, Sampha, Frank Ocean
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5