About a week ago, I saw that there was a Genius lyric breakdown for dvsn’s new single with Snoh Aalegra, “Between Us.” Even though I’ve known about dvsn for several years now, it took me a couple of moments after I clicked on the video and saw producer Nineteen85 and singer Daniel Daley to realize I had never seen their faces before.
I hadn’t ever considered that I hadn’t seen them before that moment, and I don’t think that’s by accident. The sparse, moody R&B that runs across OVO’s camp doesn’t lend itself to spotlights as much as it does dark corners and one-bedroom apartments. On “A Muse In Her Feelings” however, dvsn enlists help from outside their immediate camp for the first time to deliver their most multifaceted record yet, pulling from ‘90s R&B, dancehall, and New Orleans bounce.
One of this album’s biggest strengths lies in its flow and sequencing. Their vision for the album is spelled out in the headings on the back of the cover art, which perfectly outline the themes covered in certain chunks of the tracklist.
We begin with a relationship in disarray. Daniel sings on the opener that “Love ain’t no good for me,” and the woman at the end of the song reciprocates this by speaking of her own inability to be vulnerable. The following track, “Friends,” may be dvsn at their best. Nineteen85’s instrumental centered around these swelling synths complements Daniel’s voice perfectly and gives it enough room to breathe. This is a common recurrence throughout the album, as Nineteen85’s production is much more restrained than on 2017’s Morning After, giving Daniel much of the focus. There are moments where I’m just waiting for him to explode vocally and go crazy, but they never come. He stays in the pockets of songs well, but there aren’t any mind-blowing moments from him on the album; he keeps a similar disposition throughout. This puts a cap on the record’s ceiling, but it also lends it to a breezy listen. Paradoxically, the album in which they’re experimenting the most with their traditional sound is the one that feels the safest.
Although the features are a highlight of the album, Jessie Reyez’s voice on “Courtside” teeters toward annoying, with a sharp, childish quality to it that’s juxtaposed harshly against Daniel’s smoothness. “No Cryin” with Future bridges the gap between the intimate turmoil of a relationship to a night out at the club, and it’s the funniest song on the album. Let’s look at how Daniel approaches this night:
“Just breathe, relax
Girls night, get your bounce back
Trust me, you’ll be alright.”
What a good guy. Looking out for his girl’s wellbeing. Then here comes Future.
“I put shorties on my leashes.”
Daniel doesn’t want her to cry because it’s all going to be alright, and Future doesn’t want her to cry because she’ll get tears in his Phantom. The duality of man.
Future serves as a liaison into dvsn making club music. In contrast to Drake’s exploits into the genre, dvsn flows into dancehall much more authentically, in a way that fits the broad story being told. The hook on “Dangerous City” is the catchiest on the album, and the airy island drums on “Outlandish” are phenomenal. This is an album that I’m sure would sound even better with people next to you, but unfortunately, that suspicion won’t be confirmed for a while.
We transition smoothly back into dvsn’s traditional R&B through “‘Flawless’ Do It Well, Pt. 3,” in which Summer Walker plays the role of a stripper. In the album’s last run of tracks, Daniel’s lyrics return to the theme of vulnerability, saying he’s going to try again, that he knows he needs to change. The instrumentals on “For Us” and “…Again” sound therapeutic and hopeful when compared to the opener “No Good,” yet the subject matter is the same. It’s almost as if the process of trying to save Daniel and this girl’s relationship is more addicting than actually saving it. It’s clear that this cycle will only continue, and the managing of ego and vulnerability will be a constant struggle between them. Overall, dvsn has set themselves the furthest apart from their OVO contemporaries, yet their potential still begs to be fully realized.