If there is one thing that can be said of Drake, Noah '40' Shebib and the team at OVO Sound, it certainly must be that they have a consistent ear. Beginning with Drake's personal hand in aiding R&B superstar The Weeknd's emergence from the shadows of music blogs, before moving on to OVO Sound's first official artist signing with PARTYNEXTDOOR coming aboard, through to all of the subsequent additions to the label - Majid Jordan, iLoveMakonnen, Roy Wood$ - OVO Sound has been drawn exclusively to enigmatic artists, who routinely thrive on defying genre constructs. OVO Sound's latest addition to the roster – dvsn – is no exception.
Capping off a busy few weeks for OVO Sound, (which has seen an album release from iLoveMakonnen, and single releases from both Roy Wood$ and PARTYNEXTDOOR) dvsn, on their newly released album Sept. 5th, step up to affirm their place on OVO Sound with a sound that aptly, and rather astutely, blends sounds of old school soul, contemporary R&B, alternative rock music, sultry bar blues, the waves of psychedelic rock, 1980s sci-fi electro and, of course, continues the trend mastered by all members of OVO Sound (including its triumphant leader, Drake) in flitting on, or near, the outskirts of hip-hop sound without ever fully committing to the genre. If it appears, on paper, to be a bold and brave full-length debut – that would be precisely because it is. Particularly considering that its release comes only two months removed from dvsn's label mate Majid Jordan's similar (though, admittedly, different) attempt, which ultimately fell short.
It is clear that this is a far more confident and brave approach than Majid Jordan's from the first track on Sept. 5th, With Me - a sensual, seductive seven minute ode to sexual freedom, that owes much to the pulsing guitars of psychedelic rock and the sweet, desirous R&B sounds of Aaliyah from the 1990s (which may well be notable given OVO Sound leader Drake's long-time infatuation with the late singer). With lines such as "I'm feeling your body all around , but the truth of it all is more profound", it's less easy to dismiss the track as yet another continuation of the 'fuck music' trend that pervaded R&B for many years, as the hints of maturity and deeper thought appear to pop up only every so often as if to keep listeners guessing as to dvsn's true intentions. As if to compound the thought, the seven minute opener segues in to the album's second track, Too Deep, and openly explores the nature of falling and being in love. Again with nods to Aaliyah, Too Deep offers a level of subtlety as though being whispered in the ear. dvsn leans in, and softly croons "Cause your lips, they got me feeling very vulnerable", forcing you to further consider what you are hearing and, so to speak, read between the lines.
Try/Effortless, track 3 on the record owes much to 1980s science-fiction, video game arcade sounds, the same way as artists like Kavinsky do on the track's first installment, before descending down to a low-key instrumental interpolated with the sultry sounds of a distant noir-chic saxophone calling dvsn's vocals to the front. This recallas the voice of Prince at its best on Purple Rain. Attitude and emotion confront bravado and confidence, crashing like waves in to the darkness of a club corner where, in this instance, a beautiful woman might wait. Much can be said of the best music carrying with it the ability to transport a listener to a place they may never be, or otherwise go. In terms of ability to pull this off, Try/Effortless is, ironically, dvsn's most seemingly effortless and definitively successful song. Do It Well, the fourth song on the LP, is a much slower and considerably more stripped-back track than any one of its predecessors. In this instance, the vocals take center stage, crooning in the spotlight. The voice is vaguely reminiscent of mid-2000s R&B stars Mario and Usher, yet the sound itself never once diverges from the angsty, vulnerable rawness of contemporary R&B at its very finest.
In earnest, In + Out, passes by like a blur. Inarguably the most bland and forgettable track on dvsn's album, before making way for the title track, which quickly introduces itself with vague banjo twangs (which would almost not be out of place in a scene from the famous Burt Reynolds film Deliverance) that fold in to a powerful bass line, carrying along wispy, dreamy vocals to create an almost ethereal sound. The maturity of Sept. 5th, however, is perhaps best exemplified on Hallucinations, where dvsn sings of past love, pain and the hallucinations of what has been lost. Compounded by a confident backing track, vaguely reminiscent of a composition better reserved for a film score (nods, even, to 1970's/1980's horror films such as Friday the 13th), the track sees arguably the rawest emotions of Sept. 5th. The accessibility is particularly notable, with anyone who has experienced the loss of love likely connecting viscerally with lines such as "*Losing my concentration , hearing your voice in my head , seeing you when you aren't there*", with dvsn pining for the hallucinations of past love and hurt by the pain of what has been lost. In many ways, the accessibility and the rawness of Hallucinations sees all of the previous confidence and bravado of Sept. 5th drawn back to reveal something extraordinarily, and undeniably, human. What was once love has now become loss.
Evidently not content to stay down for long, dvsn swiftly brings back the 1980s Science-Fiction soundtrack and Michael Jackson-esque vocals for Another (yes, the latter comparison is generally a review faux pas, but the wavers and whoops of dvsn's vocalist particularly when capping off a note are so similar, and it otherwise seems insulting to the content of this album to compare the voice to Mario given what happened to his career after Let me Love You blew up). It's easy to see that if there was ever to be a sequel to the Ryan Gosling film Drive, dvsn would be the first port of call to be featured on the soundtrack purely based on their album presence. The second last track on the album, Angela, is rather quite an anomaly in terms of its surroundings. At risk of committing yet another reviewer faux pas, the comparison to Prince in his finest moments (again, Purple Rain) is such a pervasive thought that it's almost impossible to hear anything else. Even the shaky symphonic violin background, distant yet again, cannot take away from the power and the performance of the vocals. The range, the strength and the ability lift the sound to mature heights unprecedented for much of contemporary R&B. In many ways, this is the album Miguel might dream of making. A special mention must be made for the polite nod of appreciation made at the tail end of Angela to the Elliot Smith classic track Angeles, again not a reference one would expect to find or think of when listening to an R&B record but, at the same time, ambiguity would appear the goal for dvsn.
In terms of retrospect, ending at The Line seems rather symbolic for a debut full-length studio album. As dvsn have proven themselves not only capable, but extraordinarily talented, the line could well be one they stand on poised to break out, and break in to the music stratosphere. And, yet, that might not be the end goal here. On one of the strongest Sept. 5th tracks, and its closer, dvsn say it better than any reviewer could: 'if you love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it too'.
OVO Sound's latest signee may well be its best. Whether it's leaving a vaguely similar label mate act in its dust, or laying down a tough challenge for fellow OVO Sound artists PARTYNEXTDOOR, Roy Wood$ and, yes, even Drake who all have albums upcoming - dvsn would appear to have succeeded. In terms of a full-length debut for a contemporary R&B artist, only The Weeknd's House of Balloons stands out as being distinctly better than dvsn's Sept. 5th. High praise, but this may well prove - as it did in The Weeknd's case - to be just the beginning of something big.
And, still, they remain so enigmatic.