Devin Dawson

Dark Horse

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Plenty of singers followed in the footsteps of Sam Hunt, threading electronic accents and R&B rhythms into their country-pop, but Devin Dawson's 2018 debut Dark Horse feels like something new from a country star raised not only on Hunt, but in the ever-morphing digital landscape of the 21st century. Dark Horse often dodges any sonic trappings that could conventionally be called country, swapping fiddles, steel guitars, and twang for drum loops, synth sequences, and easy grooves. Many of these aural elements can be heard in other mainstream-leaning pop of different genres, but there's a fleetness in Dawson's delivery, an exactitude in his songcraft, and a mellowness in his execution that push his music toward the confines of country. In particular, the reliance on sturdy, melodic songs distinguishes Dark Horse from amorphous, EDM-flavored pop; the electronic flair is merely flair, never distracting from the tunes. If Dawson tends to slip into the production instead of demanding attention, it only accentuates how Dark Horse cultivates a cool vibe in both senses of the word: the album is hip and it runs cold, not hot. This sensibility means that it can slip by upon the first listen, but like most pop music designed to endure repeated spins, either on personalized playlists or radio, Dark Horse reveals its sly gifts upon repeated plays. By the third or fourth time these songs are heard, this low-key music gains definition and its melodies, along with its post-genre sheen, are beguiling.

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