Dehd is as much a rock band as they are a viable alternative to Red Bull. The Chicago trio’s previous two—great, but relatively interchangeable—albums, 2020’s Flower of Devotion and 2022’s Blue Skies, established Dehd as something you reach for when you want to feel hypercharged. Singer Emily Kempf’s vocals have the endearing, squealing quality of a hog call, and Jason Balla makes the guitar sound like his strings are fruit-colored rubber bands. Their music offers a reliable path to sun-kissed paradise, if your version necessitates dirty knees and sticky fingers. But on Dehd’s latest album, Poetry, the band tries the backroads. With more ambitious melodies and compositional complexity, Dehd sends a lightning bolt through their already electric sound.

All they needed was a binding agent. Balla notes in press materials that he, Kempf, and drummer Eric McGrady approached writing Poetry differently than past albums. They abandoned their typical roles—McGrady exercising his yogic restraint over the drum kit, Kempf spilling her voice all over the mic—in favor of experimentation. Balla recalls how they’d all “bounce around the room playing different instruments, dreaming up different ideas” and summoning the red-hot energy they felt when the band was younger. The result is worthwhile: Poetry still pulses like summer, but Dehd sounds more cohesive than ever.

Forest layers of guitar and echoed vocals replace the ponytail swing of Blue Skies. Still, Balla often sings with charming indifference, like he found the lyrics crumpled in his back pocket. “It’s a lover, soft undressing,” he muses with Kempf on the headrush “Dog Days,” only to finish the next line with a statement of apathy: “It’s a, ugh, whatever.” His reedy voice and Kempf’s gunshot shouting have always mixed together well, like sparkling water and soda syrup. But Poetry elevates their natural chemistry with bold harmonies. The two trade light da-da-da’s and lazy ahh’s on the yearning “So Good,” as if they’re playing dentist. When McGrady’s drum starts to rumble, it feels like Earth is parting for the song’s true message: “I’m bad at this love thing/You’ll probably mean nothing.”

Dehd tackle the same topics with a missing-tooth grin: addictive love, pain, being a happy outsider in spite of these things. Despite the cringey loftiness that a title like Poetry suggests, they consistently deliver sensible Bob Seger jams, like “Shake,” on which Kempf huffs out big breaths, as if she’s using them to keep herself cool. The poetry is in the mundane, they suggest. It’s in all the disparate pieces that come together to form one mosaic, your one life. That sense of quotidian beauty is especially palpable on “Pure Gold,” in which McGrady’s drums sway like blossoms in a windy wildflower field. Kempf and Balla chant triumphantly, proclaiming that it’s all “Easy, breezy/Ooh, yeah/We laugh so freely.” Their instruments no longer rub against each other like dry sticks, as they would on past albums—instead, they melt together like popsicles.

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Dehd: Poetry