Amongst the swirl of dating apps, situationships and decay of the dating scene, true love seems to be a thing of the past. It’s become completely acceptable to appear apathetic about love in an age where hooking up with strangers from the internet and getting ghosted is the new status quo. Instead of accepting the bleak reality of right swipes and getting left on read, Dehd continue to seek out the life-affirming, heart-fluttering kind of love that others believe has become obsolete in the digital age.
The Chicago-based band consisting of Emily Kempf (bass and vocals), Jason Balla (guitar and vocals) and Eric McGrady (drums and vocals) has been a staple of the scene since their self-titled debut dropped in 2016. The album had an all-out devotion evident in the syrupy sweetness of “Love Song” and the pure desire of tracks like “Any Other Night,” which demanded your attention. Their bare-bones approach presented love as an omniscient force and the closest thing we have to magic.
However, while recording their sophomore album, Water, Kempf and Balla broke up, but decided to keep the band together. The duo found solace in their shared heartbreak, and used the opportunity to explore the range of emotions that come with love and the way relationships change. It was during this time they began to notice how love, just like water, is fluid and ever-changing.
“We like having the focus on the possibility of people to have reconciliation and move from one form of relationship to another, and how it is possible,” Kempf told Paste in 2020. “And it’s not rare or weird. Once we were lovers, but now we’re friends, and we’re bandmates and business partners.”
This idea of love as something always present and adaptable continued into 2020’s Flower of Devotion and emerged again on their most recent release, Blue Skies. To celebrate the new album, Paste is looking back at the top 10 tracks that shaped Dehd into the guiding light they have become.
“Lucky” proves that Dehd can find the magic in anything, even heartbreak. An homage to the extreme emotions true love can evoke, the song’s focus isn’t on the fact that the relationship didn’t work out—what matters is that Kempf was able to have such a transformative experience. As she proclaims, “Lucky to have / People in my life / With the power to break my heart,” you can’t help but think about the amazing set of circumstances that led you to the people you hold closest in your own life, whether it was by fate or pure chance. The tinkling guitars and loose “Sha la la la la”’s are lit by unrestrained ebullience as Kempf marvels at the way love ebbs and flows, but never completely disappears.
If there’s one thing Dehd have mastered over the course of four albums, it’s how to write a closing track. A triumphant ending, “No Difference” is the culmination of the bubbling optimism and radiant excitement of Blue Skies. After reconciling with their past (“Moving mountains of the past / Once an ocean nothing lasts!”), they put unwavering trust in the future in a moment of pure catharsis. Refusing to shield her eyes from the sun, Kempf is mesmerized by the unknown and absolutely giddy as she shouts, “This is all we get / Best to take the risk!”
In a world that seems to be turning at breakneck speed, “On My Side” is the reassurance that you’re going to end up exactly where you need to be. The steady bassline and gentle persistence of the percussion contribute to the flood of relief that the song brings. Even as Balla struggles with little things that keep reminding him of the relationship he’s leaving and the anxiety of wondering if this is goodbye forever, Kempf yelps, “Time is on my side / I will be alright,” and you wholeheartedly believe her.
The first glimpse listeners got of Blue Skies, “Bad Love” is a baptism. The rapturous comeback track kicks off Dehd’s new era with Kempf fleeing the false love she fell for in the past. Following Flower of Devotion, on which Kempf and Balla were still navigating their new, post-breakup friendship with each other, the album still ruminated on the past (see “Letter,” in which Kempf sings “I was there first / Yeah, you’re just following me / Good luck with that, girl / I’m a tough act to beat”), whereas “Bad Love” rejoices in having a clean slate. Instead of rehashing old relationships, Kempf finds inspiration elsewhere as she breathlessly pursues someone new: “Forgive me give it to me / Tell me what to do tell me what to do to keep it / I need your lovin / I wanna be your honey.” Leaning into the revitalizing strength and purifying power of a new love, the song feels like a long-awaited shot at redemption after the complex territory that their past discography covered.
While it can be tempting to fall for what’s in front of you simply to avoid being lonely, “Lately” promises that nothing compares to waiting for the right thing to come along. A deep cut from Dehd’s debut album, the song is laden with wiry guitars and deadpan vocals that have the same sense of restraint as the lyrics. As Kempf sleeps in someone else’s room and forgets their name, she never once appears to be impatient or afraid of wasting her time. Instead, she seems assured that the profound love she’s been holding out for is on its way, and more magnificent than anything she could have ever imagined.
There’s usually that moment when you first start falling in love with someone and the full force of your feelings blindsides you. “Clear” is the surreal second that it all clicks into place, when you look over at them and realize they’re the reason the whole world feels fluorescent. Slow, shimmering guitars reinforce the glow Balla and Kempf gush about as they swoon over stolen glances (“It’s clear halfway home when I look at you / I’m clear halfway home when I look at you”). The epiphany that before you met someone, things had been slightly blurry, “Clear” is the luminous moment when everything comes into such sharp focus, it takes your breath away.
While Dehd address the complexities of love and loss throughout their discography, “Flying” captures how truly bittersweet it is. The song acknowledges the double-edged sword of how hard it can be to care about someone who can’t be in your life anymore, while still feeling lucky to have met them in the first place. The sort of person you can’t stop caring about no matter how hard you try, it’s clear the other half of this relationship will always hold a special place in Kempf’s heart. Over twinkling guitars, she admits, “To know you is to care / But to know you is a bit unfair.” Rather than resenting those lingering feelings, Dehd turn “Flying” into a testament to the people who come into your life for however long, and even when they leave it, they’re never really gone.
“Lake” manages to summarize Water in a little over two minutes. While Dehd spend the entire album discussing the dizzying highs, crushing lows and confusing in-between phases of falling in (and out of) love, they also affirm that the risk is well worth the reward. Instead of being discouraged by past heartbreaks, they revel in the resilience it takes to keep searching for and believing in true love by noting that while some people come and go, the people you’re meant to be with will always stick around. “Lake” reiterates that the bravest thing you can do is continue to choose hope over fear, and Kempf radiates unshakeable confidence as she declares, “Love is a great big lake / I am not afraid.”
“Desire” is Dehd at their most ecstatic. The jangly opening track on Flower of Devotion has a sense of urgency and uninhibited joy that makes it feel like Balla and Kempf can’t conceal how head over heels they are. The frantic call-and-response vocals at the end entangle Kempf’s confession of “You are my dream!” with Balla’s plea to “Let me out / Let me out / Let me out,” creating one bright blur of unbridled infatuation.
One of the first singles from Flower of Devotion, “Flood” turns Kempf’s vulnerability into a source of raw power. Instead of downplaying the devastation she feels due to someone leaving her, she uses it to become a force of nature. Just like a flood, the intensity of her emotions has the ability to heal or destroy, to usher in renewal or raze whole cities to the ground. Taking an unabashed look at the aftermath of a life-altering love, she takes ownership of her pain and derives strength from it.
Samantha Sullivan is a Paste Music intern and writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached on Instagram @fangirlpurgatory.