Might accidentally disintegrate into the pop culture ether.
“Look what you made me do” has become a loaded phrase in 2017 pop culture. With the help of Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift hisses it ad nauseum on the much-hated first single from her upcoming album. Aside from the song’s technical shortcomings (of which there are many), the semantics of that line sparked a fairly robust online debate back in August. Swift is playing coy and vindictive, but many have rightly pointed out that she’s using the language of a domestic abuser, and her tone-deafness ultimately dug her a bigger PR hole than she was already in.
The same line appears on Morning After, the second album from Canadian R&B duo dvsn (pronounced “division”). During the coda to “Mood,” the record’s rough midpoint, an angel-voiced Daniel Daley croons “look what you made me do” with such sweetness, you’d balk at the thought that it was ever controversial. That’s a good microcosm of the rest of the album: Morning After isn’t exactly toothless, but it goes down so easily it feels almost funny to attach it to any big emotions. The record simmers, like most good R&B, and the tracks are uniformly tight and precise—but even at an overlong 51 minutes, it fails to make much of a lasting emotional impression.
That’s not to say that the songs don’t come from an emotional place. Daley’s voice is shot through with light desperation on “Conversations in a Diner,” with defiance on the thundering “Think About Me.” He’s plenty expressive, but as a piece, Morning After doesn’t give him very many places to go. It’s almost narcotized, but not as a stylistic choice in the vein of someone like Lana Del Rey. There’s something stunted about the listening experience, like the songs are constantly threatening to take flight but are cut down at the last minute.
Which is, admittedly, an interesting idea. Morning After doesn’t necessarily see this through, but the album is largely about missed connections and the ways that we reform situations in our minds to mean more than they actually do. There’s a compelling argument out there, somewhere, about how the record is a rumination on almost-climaxes, on moments that nearly take flight but ultimately stay earthbound. Unfortunately, none of these themes quite come to fruition. As it stands, the record feels like it’s a handful of raw ideas in need of a wrangler; a pretty voice and a knack for melody in need of someone with verifiable pruning shears who isn’t in the business of pulling punches.
dvsn’s last album, Sept. 5th, felt pruned, which maybe accounts for the surprise accompanying the new one’s lack of focus. That album felt like it belonged in low light, with tight, atmospheric production pushing all of its songs to the musky hours between midnight and morning. Morning After almost feels that way, but instead it seems like handing in one’s homework half-finished. There’s plenty of studio gloss, plenty of Prince-like falsetto, plenty to chew on about relationships, but it raises more questions than we want raised in the middle of the morning.
At the end of the day, its inclusion of the line “Look what you made me do” as a gentle moment of reflection remains its most distinguishing factor. Were it not for that circumstantial relevance, Morning After might accidentally disintegrate into the pop culture ether. Like much of the album, it’s a moment worth hearing, and worth comparing against similar, contemporary attempts; unfortunately, it’s not a moment worth loving, and that stops Morning After from making much of a mark. It’s lovely as atmospheric background music, but the album doesn’t ultimately reward the careful listener.