Review: Dvsn, Sept. 5th

The dimly lit debut from Dvsn, the latest Canadian R&B Lothario cosigned by Drake
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The dimly lit debut from Dvsn, the latest Canadian R&B Lothario cosigned by Drake

“FUCK WITH ME now,” Dvsn pleads, almost inaudibly, in the opening lines of Sept. 5th. On an album brimming with unsubtle sexuality, the first words are a rare instance of this enigmatic artist singing a lyric that’s less carnally-focused than it sounds. He desires sex, as the rest of the song makes plain (as well as the rest of the album; more on that in a bit), but a desire to be wanted is what he puts at the forefront. It’s as much an instruction to the listener as it is a request for the song’s subject. For the most part, it’s an instruction that listeners would do well to heed.

“With Me” is one of the two seven-minute monoliths that bookend Sept. 5th, and it’s the best thing this release has to offer. I’d go so far as to say it’s among the very best R&B tracks to come out since Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” codified the modern state of the genre in 2012. (But don’t call it PBR&B.) Everything about the track is breathtakingly smooth, but the fine-tuned production isn’t there to mask subpar musicianship; the melodies are tight, and the trap-influenced drumming fits perfectly with the song’s ethereal feel. I couldn’t get the bass riff out of my head for hours after hearing the track for the first time. The female vocals (which sound sampled, but appear to be originally recorded for the song) balance well with the lead. Even with a slightly superfluous outro, it feels like it justifies its length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Minimal, engaging, and sensual, ”With Me” is everything this album hopes to be as a whole.

The trouble with that—and the part of the review that it’s hardest for me to write, because every part of me wanted Dvsn to have come out of nowhere and become my new favorite thing—is that very little of the rest of Sept. 5th reaches the bar set by the opening track. The second half suffers the most, because it tries to diverge from the three-adjective formula I described earlier (maybe better summed up as “less dark early Weeknd with half the instruments”) and the production quality falters as a result. The track “Angela” is hit the worst, where Dvsn drowns a good vocal performance with canned strings and a predictable piano progression, pushing the song over the thin line between inoffensiveness and disposability. The first half fares much better, even if it doesn’t reach the same heights as the opener; I really love “Try/Effortless” and the way the pitch-shifted low vocal line complements Dvsn’s reverb-boosted high notes, and “Too Deep” has a great push-pull dynamic with the male and female vocals, in spite of its shallow lyrics.

Ah, yes. The lyrics. Yeah, they aren’t the best. And it’s not that they have to be, really, because this album’s merits are largely technical (which is by no means a bad thing), but would it hurt to have one song that isn’t drenched in sexual desperation? “In+Out”, one of the album’s best compositions, is very nearly ruined by some of the most heavy-handedly sexual lyrics I’ve heard in years. There’s nothing erotic about it, or even disarming; it’s more tiresome than anything. The album’s at its best when it aims for sensuality more than sexuality, but that rarely happens anywhere other than “With Me”. Well, “With Me” and “The Line”.

It wouldn’t be fair to Sept. 5th to get this far in a review and not give “The Line” its proper due. The album closer is almost as good as the opener, and deserves a large chunk of the same hyperbolic praise I heaped onto “With Me”. Echoing treble-heavy drums complement a soundscape of gentle synths and overlapping vocal samples, with new elements being introduced every time the song seems in danger of stagnating, making the song’s seven minutes feel like half the time. Dvsn’s vocals are on point here, and the slow-paced minimalism creates a nice palindromic connection to the opening track. It pulls the whole album back into focus. It’s a reminder that Sept. 5th isn’t particularly great on the whole, but it’s good, and I’m not sure if I’ve been emphasizing that enough. The album’s lesser elements certainly stick out, but the whole time they’re in the midst of a well-executed recording that knows exactly what it wants to sound like and achieves that goal competently. It’s a shame that it doesn’t live up to the promise of the first few singles, but there’s still plenty to like here.

In the end, we have a classic case of an album that has a couple tracks distinguishing themselves distractingly from the rest, but that mostly succeeds on its own merits regardless. Despite some glaring issues, Sept. 5th manages to stay listenable, and offers occasional glimpses of genuine inspiration. I do fuck with you, Dvsn. Not as much as I’d dearly like to, but enough. B MINUS