I want to tell you a dirty secret: I like this album.
Alright, that’s not so raunchy. But I do have another dirty secret—and it has to do with an element of this album.
The fusion of electronic with R&B in the last few years has received helping hands from all angles. Not only by the helping-hand efforts of smooth cats like Anderson.Paak, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean but also the increasingly larger deep house scene like FKJ and Pretty Lights.
And no, my dirty secret is not that I like the deep house scene.
Even mainstream dancers like Disclosure and Avicii dip their toes into the deep pool of R&B talent and samples to find the right vocal cord to pull on before tying the bow with a digital finger. If I was a master of reality, I would have Daft Punk working on a rhythm, blues and house fusion follow-up to Random Access Memories.
And goddamn, it’s not like Kanye has been locked away from technology either.
But of all these genre helper elves it is Drake who we can thank or—for some—blame for the genesis of dvsn.
To be clear, I do not sing to Drake albums in the shower. That’s not my dirty secret either.
The duo comprises of vocalist Daniel Dailey and producer the-Nineteen85-formerly-known-as-Paul Jefferies, who worked with Drake on singles like “One Dance,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and the ridiculously infamous “Hotline Bling.”
Yep, “Hotline Bling” was that guy.
Indeed, Morning After sounds much like “Hotline Bling’s” third-cousin, twice remastered.
Much of the music is synthesized, computerized and programmed to evoke emotions. The eponymous cut plays keyboards in eerily robotic time, the bass trying to kick its way through my speaker wall. “Don’t Choose” ticks with all the drama of a digital clock that just broke-up with his girl. Even the drum machine on “P.O.V.” delivers naught but the deathrattles of a diseased desktop.
Forget OK Computer, this album sounds like it was made on depressed computer. Nineteen85’s production can be caught long-stare gazing at his shoes, mid-way in moody lulls that go nowhere.
Just as 1975 proved on its second album whose name escapes me, synthesizers with a half-brained dedication to mood and texture bump the Richter scale exactly zero points. My emotional tectonic plates move nary an inch.
But I had faith in Morning After. Not unlike my last Civilization V game, I had faith in this album because even when the game starts ugly, it can still be won. Because even when dvsn’s music pitters and patters with the electric rain, I’m just waiting Daley’s voice to kick me right in my emotional-as-fuck-balls:
“Hey—Fuck. You. Pal. I hurt too.”
“THANK THE RAP GODS.”
(If you’re wondering, my dirty secret has nothing to do with my belief in rap gods and dank memes. Whatever those are *sarcasm filter*.)
Because not even a backing church choir can hold a candle to Daley’s high-register, low-moan, vibrato. He doesn’t miss a binary beat and his voice puts the art inside the automated frame job. Daley’s voice sings like a saint, “Can’t Wait” would become nigh unholy without his voice.
Further, the production and his voice mimic, where Daley swings, Nineteen85’s production ripostes. When 85’s production darts, Daley parries.
85 finds success as producer when he remembers real instruments like pianos and guitars and Daley’s voice still exist. He proceeds to paint gusto colors with Daley on “Keep Calm,” “Think About Me,” and “Morning After.” A welcome change to the half-hearted, white-noise-blanketed, drum-machine canvases.
Otherwise it’s all up to Daley to flip the blanket, and while that can happen (see: “Don’t Choose,” “Mood” and “Body Smile”), that’s too much for a vocalist to handle for over half a record. He has power, tone and some heavenly vibrato but this ain’t no spirit of God good.
It’s also not like I have a secret hate for 85, I just need a little more to chew on rather than sleep on in an R&B album, no matter how moody or airy or electronic or sensitive it wants to be.
When 85 repeats with a pointed performance the album picks up.
Because if I like Morning After for the moments when it hits, it’s because 85 reminds me why I like him: because I will get down to “Hotline Bling” in a club without even thinking about it.
That’s my dirty musical secret. Not my dirtiest, by far, but damn is that cut my guilty pleasure. I will sing that shit from back-to-back-to-back-to-back. The cut’s slick—and so too is Morning After.
The record may get too slick for its own smoothness, but there’s enough in there to build a solid mood and move a solid groove.
Quick Impressions: Morning After maybe too slick for its own good, but it is good. It’s a romantic attempt, erring on minor key eroticism and flirting with cheesy pickup lines but it doesn’t fail to set the mood.
Producer: Nineteen85 (exec.), 40, Alpha, Maneesh, Noël, Robin Hannibal
- “Run Away”
- “Nuh Time / Tek Time”
- “Keep Calm”
- “Think About Me”
- “Don’t Choose”
- “You Do”
- “Morning After”
- “Can’t Wait”
- “Body Smile”
- “Conversations in a Diner”