There’s a difference between a perfect summer song and a perfect summer album. The “song of the summer” is usually a piece of pop perfection, a sticky candy whose flavor is inescapable for about three minutes after consumption. Something like “Levitating” by Dua Lipa or “Hot in Herre” by Nelly, a song that becomes its own intricate universe for a few minutes, where your biggest concern is the beat.
In my opinion, for a perfect summer rock album, things have to slow down a little. There should be a feeling of absorption, like a lizard soaking up the sun on a large, flat rock. A perfect summer album isn’t about dancing, but grooving. There’s a big difference. In the latter, you’re swaying back and forth, balancing the line between moving and saving your energy in the hot, sticky heat. There will be hooks and chorus to get lost in, not quite the endless sprawl of a jam band but a feeling of being carried, even elevated, through the heat.
The Chicago band Dehd has released such an album. It’s called Blue Skies. The band has a knack for indie rock that’s all killer and no filler. Take the album’s second track, “Bad Love,” which opens with a soaring chorus from Emily Kempf, about making peace with yourself in a way that isn’t lame.
“I was a bad love,” she bellows, more of a statement than a judgment. “Now I can get some,” she follows up. It’s a little like a Yom Kippur confessional, admitting the sins of the past with the hope that you’ve changed enough to keep them in your past. The drums are out of the early ’60s and guitars have a dreamy shoegazey sound, but the vocals have a determination all their own. Maybe it’s a Chicago thing.
Even the regretful tracks on the album never wallow. “Memories are gone” says Jason Balla on “Memories,” saddened like a kid with his head hanging down. He’s “doing all I can to hang on,” but there’s Kempf on the background vocals, providing a cheery background to keep things from getting too glum. A song like this can focus on feeling sad, or it can try to move past that feeling, and “Memories” does the latter.
Dehd isn’t the only band with a slow, hooky sound that can explode at any time. There are elements of Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, and Wavves present in their songs, not to mention the longing of another great Chicago band, Whitney. But Dehd has a sound all its own, a sound of effortless interplay, that very closely lines up with their last album, 2020’s Flowers of Devotion.
The three-piece is able to make this sound feel both large and intimate, which makes Blue Skies the perfect background song for a small gathering. The meandering guitars of “Window” and the warm “oohs” of “Palomino” invite intimacy. Maybe it couldn’t capture the crowd of a full-on party, which is why these are songs for the summer. But among five or six people, max, cracking open some brews or lighting up a joint, the sound of Dehd suddenly becomes crystal clear.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.