Wednesday, April 13, 2016

dvsn - Sept. 5th Review

Part of the mystique of R&B giants are their wildly charismatic sex appeal. Ever since Prince gallivanted about with sleek attire and an alluring, but welcoming look listeners have been attracted to crooners for their persona almost more than their music. D'Angelo, Miguel, Justin Timberlake, just some to fit under this scope. So what happens when you take that half out? dvsn (pronounced division) aims to answer that, with a mysterious lead singer and a producer who's as quiet and nonchalant as one can hope to be after creating Drake's 'Hotline Bling.' They do not have a music video or press photos, their notoriety solely lies on the weight of the Sept. 5th's four strong singles and an understated, but incredibly important, affiliation with Drake under his OVO label. With this little going in we're left to focus on the music and not the curators of lust behind it. Thankfully, and in my case surprisingly, that music holds up strikingly well. It is not revolutionary, drawing strong influence from Miguel vocally and The Weeknd sonically, but Sept. 5th is at times good, at others an exceptional love-making tour de force.

What's most impressive about Sept. 5th is the fact that it's a debut. While lead producer Nineteen85 has produced hits for Hip-Hop's biggest name, the chemistry between engineer and vocalist is already at an all-time high. The sounds are crisp, tight and alluring, the vocals pristine, pure and unforgiving. dvsn sounds more like a group well into the spotlight than one attempting to find its footing. Pit Sept. 5th up against the most recent works from R&B stalwarts and the differences largely come down to personal opinion. Do you want seductive maturity? Miguel will answer that. Youthful ambition? Frank Ocean's your man. Boastful crossover appeal? The Weeknd comes to mind. And in all honesty, you can find bits and pieces from each in dvsn's debut, which is to say it's not in the least bit original. That's a small quip because ever since Prince arrived R&B has shown to be timeless and almost always reliable. At the very least you'll think Sept. 5th is admirable, a work that, while small, has clear aspirations to reach a bigger stage, even if dvsn's content is entirely personal.

Unfortunately that content, or more so the lyrics, compose its weakest moments. It's one thing to see The Weeknd set his eyes to the Pop charts but dvsn aims to take his music a bit more serious, similar to Miguel, and when you go to compare the two, lyrically, the latter outpaces dvsn by a far margin. On 'Sept. 5th' the vocalist wearily begs "I could make it better if I could have sex with you." That's the hook, all subtlety lost. Damn near every chorus, lyrically speaking, is rather one-dimensional, sporting virtually no interesting ideas or conflicting moral dilemmas. The verses don't fair much better, however, the detail needed in writing more forces them to seem above mediocre. They're not. Not only are the ideas about as straight laced as one can hope to get in relation to seduction, they're verbally simplistic too, never expanding past the very ordinary rules and rituals one has come to know from R&B. Then again, when it comes to fleeting romanticism one isn't exactly primed to focus on intricate lyricism, the feeling and passion is what matter and dvsn has that in spades. 

Allegedly vocalist Daniel Daley
Many of the songs, apart from the oddly specific 'Angela,' see lust pour out from the seams. The tender loving care applied to the vocals is no small feat, and not without purpose too. On 'Try / Effortless' his voice faces uncertainty with a litany of bystanders ready to take his space. They're all the same voice of course, but each part layered over one another brings density that's only matched by the production's equally enchanting ways. In terms of human presence here the undeniable side factor is the female accompaniment. Purely organic and never sampled, the background choirs creeping up, and eventually exploding in an orgasmic symphony, cover a handful of songs. Taking the greatness and initial idea of Tory Lanez's 'Say It' to greater, far more evolutionary heights, the gospel presence on tracks like 'Too Deep' and 'The Line' are all too powerful, drowning everything to a buttery smooth wash of sexual desires. With opener 'With Me' included, these tracks are not coincidentally the best on the album, bringing in a perpendicular approach to song structure that enhances feeling while evocating an early 90's R&B sex appeal. The lyrics may not be there, but the feeling and the intimacy sure as hell is.

It's quite striking that at the end of the day the most important aspect of Sept. 5th is one I've seldom discussed; the production. Nineteen85 pairs minimalist measures with maximalist space, achieving a harmonic balance that sees perfect execution in the heavenly 'The Line.' It might go down as one of the best Alternative R&B songs since the turn of the decade, it's seriously that good. Elsewhere, like on 'Hallucinations,' you can see definite FKA Twigs inspiration, piecing together airiness with sporadic drums that turn into a fizzling puddle. You can say something good about almost every track here, only 'Do It Well' and 'Another One' stumble a bit in my eyes thanks to their inability to stand out against the others. Sept. 5th takes what we've already come to know about R&B, about Alternative R&B, and about our transition into the newest era of R&B and simply fine tunes it. There's nothing here you haven't heard before and nothing that you can't find better elsewhere, but dvsn concentrates the assets to make a concise and consistent album that assures a presence for years to come.

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