Dvsn Find New Clarity on ‘A Muse In Her Feelings’

Toronto’s Dvsn, the duo of singer Daniel Delay and producer Nineteen85, boast a place on Drake’s OVO Sound label, and it’s clear why, as their style is another spin on the niche R&B sound that characterizes artists on the roster. One feature that sets Dvsn apart is an elusive quality that nods to ‘90s R&B, to powerful ends. Whereas their first two album’s, 2016’s “Sept. 5th” and 2017’s “Morning After” presented Daley’s vocals cloaked in haze, somewhat overplaying the lo-fi aesthetic, their latest release, “A Muse In Her Feelings” allows them to shine, taking a more conventional approach, while still retaining the duo’s signature production style. It’s the first Dvsn release to entertain guest features, and it certainly delivers in this regard, with an impressive cast of characters, each of whom makes an invaluable contribution, and brings to light latent magic.

Opener “No Good” places Daley over a basic stop-start beat and twee melody, and lets him start the emotional contemplation that will inform the greater part of the album’s near hour-long running time. When he concludes, upon the chorus, “And it seems like I’m just no good at love,” his realization clicks, in real time, with a particularly resonant melodic fragment, emblematic of Dvsn’s ability to effectively channel ‘90s sounds through subtle stylistic touches. “Friends” recruits PartyNextDoor, on a decidedly lo fi production that sounds as if tailored for him. The two sing together over a trap percussive loop, cloaked in haze. Party’s relatively shabby singing seems to enhance the helplessness of the lyrics, “Stop listenin’ to my friends / ‘Cause the way I see it, now you’re mine.”

“Still Pray For You” begins like an early aughts throwback, and gets more lo fi yet, a sound that suits Daley’s style, as his unaffected, mopey outpourings are the type of half-baked fare that seems like the lyrical equivalent of such intently unvarnished production. Lo fi can be a dangerous game, especially if you don’t have the most immediately palpable voice, and we are reminded of this on “Courtside,” featuring Jeesie Reyez, whose normally thrillingly original voice here sounds rather grating as she chimes in, untreated over a barebones backdrop, her offbeat, nasal outbursts punctuating Daley’s mumblings

Fortunately, “Miss me?” finds Dvsn returning to what they do so well. This time they go overtly trap with the beat, but what stands out is how Daley nails that ‘90s R&B sound so magically. It’s hard to put your fingers on it, yet it’s easy to pinpoint, and these tunes seem to just come naturally. Next, single “No Cryin’” is a modern R&B marvel, even if for nothing more than that its title comes from a refrain of “no more cryin’ in the club.” For anyone who has ever shed tears at the discoteque, harboring fears of judgmental glances and shameful thoughts, this one’s for you. Bringing everything over the top, Daley croons the chorus line alongside a sampled voice of a woman whose words are incomprehensible, but sound as if delivered with an emphatic shaking of the head and wagging of the finger. If only this were the title of the album. Future shows up in an especially low register for him, doing his usual gurgling, warbling, over a flangey beat, and everything about the track is quite perfect. 

“Dangerous City” features raw, Carribean-influenced production like a ParyNextDoor track, with a beat similar to the famous “Diwali riddim” and a verse from Buju Banton When Banton enters, the beat gets distorted, as to match his more abrasive style, adding a welcome bit of edge. Daley meanwhile rounds off his vowels in a way that recalls the “emo” rap style, as if things weren’t sappy enough. Ty Dolla $ign drops a verse, his voice in the same general region as Delay’s, coming across as a neatly compatible aesthetic variation. “So What” sounds like an afterthought to the previous track, murky and aquatic, with a slickly syncopated beat, run through phasers, and an infectious contribution from Popcaan, who chimes in with some animated Patois.

“Outlandish” comes in a seamless transition, and it’s apparent at this point how well the mixtape-type format suits Dvsn’s aesthetic, shifting casually in and out of captured feelings. Near the end, the instrumental melody is fashioned into video game soundtrack fare, and set to a fenetic dancehall beat, replete with a hype man spurring things on — “outlandish” indeed. Playful touches like this are one of the album’s greatest attributes. To our great fortune, the hype man sticks around for the duration of “Keep It Going,” a delightfully campy, New Orleans Bounce-inspired track that welcomes listeners to a hazy afterhours environment, where shouts of “Keep it!” and “Shake it!” are juxtaposed with a jokey sample of sexy panting and other sound effects, repeated with game controller impatience, while Delay sings with an unphased smoothness and no discernible trace of irony. This is simply brilliant

Dvsn revisit the early aughts stylings of “Still Pray For You” on “‘Flawless,’ Do It Well, Pt. 3,” but take all sorts of unanticipated directions, throwing in a beat change and muffled synth strings. Daley’s vocals are front and center, and Summer Walker joins him, sounding on-point as always, as the two engage in a playful stripper scenario routine, based around lines like “You’re flawless, you a boss bitch.” “Greedy” is more classic in its stylings, a slow jam full of laidback swag, with such poetry as “We’re having sex and taking trips so we’re coming and going.” The chorus of “It’s okay to be greedy, greedy, greedy” is another rather amusing feature, as it would make an ideal jingle for a political ad preaching the Reagan/Thatcher gospel.

Snoh Aalegra makes an impressive appearance on “Between Us,” another of the album’s successful duets, her immaculately light, fluid voice an effective counterpart for Daley’s. The beat samples Usher’s “Nice & Slow,” and the priceless lyrics keep coming with a refrain of “I don’t want nothing in between us / Nothing there to stop the feeling.” See what they did there? Dvsn are on a roll at this point, and they follow with another standout, “A Muse.”

A hard-hitting beat of backward music and swiveling effects samples the enormously popular Lonnie Liston’s “A Garden of Peace,” featured before on Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents,” Meek Mill’s “Respect the Game,” and 2 Chainz’s “I Said Me.” With his instantly memorable melodies, Daley sounds absolutely in his element, at his most thoroughly realized, a testament to the titular muse.

“For Us” further demonstrates Daley’s knack for coming up with classic R&B melodies that sound familiar upon first listen. The vocals are perhaps a bit too close, as the captured breathing can be a bit overbearing, but it adds to the intimacy, and the unbelievably mellow, woozy, wonky groove is otherwise quite perfect. Finally, “… Again” finds Daley surprisingly crisp and clear, the beat faint and muffled in the background. Massive snares cue full ‘80s indulgence, and Shantel Mae joins Daley in an epic chorus. Her impassioned, fiery delivery is worlds away from the subdued stylings of Snoh Alaegra, but at least equally compelling. It’s a reminder of Dvsn’s versatility, as their singular strain of R&B can easily be molded this way or the other. To bring it all over the top, a guitar solo hits just at the peak when the singers are exchanging their most heated melismatic histrionics. This is going out in style.  

The hazy productions that typify OVO artists are at odds with the gloss that has traditionally come with anything in the R&B sphere. This only makes anyone associated with the phenomenon more exciting. That said, as the artists chasing this aesthetic accumulate and multiply, the tricks get old. With “A Muse In Her Feelings,” Dvsn have stepped back from the excessive haze of earlier work, albeit subtly, without ever giving a sense of artistic compromise. It’s a move that generally serves them well, as it makes it easier to appreciate Daley’s informed melodic instincts. Guest features, so often a crutch for lackluster releases in this genre, are here indulged adeptly, unlocking new sonic possibilities. The lyrics are generally predictably sappy cliches, but the playful sonic experiments peppered throughout add a certain camp levity that make them fit neatly in the overall package. Altogether, there’s much promise and plenty to enjoy.

A Muse In Her Feelings” is available April 17 on Apple Music.