Chicago D.I.Y. rock trio Dehd formed when co-songwriters Emily Kempf and Jason Balla began dating. Starting a band initially allowed for more time together, but the duo's creative chemistry bloomed in Dehd, with drummer Eric McGrady solidifying the group's sound with stripped down two-drum rhythms. When Kempf and Balla ended their romance in 2017, they decided to push forward with Dehd, funneling all the sadness, disappointment, and resolution of their breakup into the songs of their sophomore album, Water. While the album represents the strongest collection of Dehd's unbusy but infectiously catchy songs, the shadow of a lost love looms over every track. Even without knowing the backstory, Water feels like a breakup record, with wistful and broken lyrics mirroring the bittersweetness of love ending and being reborn as complicated friendship. Balla and Kempf are ostensibly singing directly to each other in these songs, with lyrics more aching and tender than angry. The overload of reverb that coated earlier releases is dialed back on Water, bringing the heartbreak of the songs into even clearer focus. Standout track "Lucky" begins with Kempf throatily crooning "Lucky to have people in my life with the power to break my heart." McGrady's solid drumming and Balla's demented quasi-surf guitar lines gel around the song's girl group pep, complete with some spare "sha la la la" vocal accents. The tune is one of several undeniably catchy and upbeat songs that sound written from the depths of despair. The slow melancholy of "On My Side" sees both singers trading verses, helplessly missing each other and unsure of where to go from there. The song has the same muted sadness that defined some of the best moments of bands like the Motels and the Pretenders. The sorrow is palpable and the level of vulnerability is almost uncomfortable. Apart from the threads of lovesickness, Dehd's gifts for succinct bursts of dark pop are on full display throughout the album. Songs like "Lake" and "Happy Again" swim in simply drawn melodies and unexpected turns in song structure. The 13 songs zip by at just over a half-hour running time but overflow with off-center hooks. Dehd could have disbanded or written a new set of songs that wallowed in spite. Instead, Water is a harrowing but beautifully honest emotional document that feels hopeful and supportive even at its saddest points.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas