For most of the 2000s, Mark Buehrle was a well above-average baseball player. Known for excellent pitch location, killer off-speed stuff and refreshingly fast pace on the mound, the White Sox left-hander earned five All Star nods in addition to a World Series championship in 2005. He was good — very good — but not quite legendary, and although he’ll always be a fan favorite in Chicago, he’ll forever be cemented in baseball purgatory, an area one notch down from Fame: the Hall of Very Good.
On Oct. 13, dvsn released Morning After, a sophomore follow-up to 2016’s Sept. 5th, and if that debut was Buehrle’s no-hitter, this is his perfect game — better refined, likely more memorable, a more successful push beyond minimalistic stricture and another accolade to tack onto — at best — a very above-average career.
On that debut we got gems (e.g. “With Me,” “Too Deep”) that oozed, simply and unapologetically, of sex, and the theme is also in effect here. This time, the duo — one half Daniel Daley (vocals) and other half Nineteen85 (production) — feels more comfortable toying with this sexual foundation. While standard alternative R&B elements are noticeable, “Don’t Choose,” for example, adds something extra with its muffled, pitchy hook. We hear a plea, of sorts, and it leads up to an especially gospel-y outro that’s equal parts unexpected and fun (and maybe the highlight). This moment smoothly transitions to “Mood,” an airy piano carrying into Daley’s boldest falsettos on the entire album, which sets the scene for a lush ballad. Consider this stretch equivalent to Buehrle’s time with the Toronto Blue Jays, the city from where dvsn themselves hail; the pitcher saw success with a new level of finesse in the twilight of his career as he played with speeds and spots. Similarly, dvsn mixes in refreshing instrumentation to stabilize each ballad.
The album as a whole is a ballad, after all. Certain straightforwardness is to be expected; Morning After contains 13 tracks, each grounded thematically in love and the frustrations that stem from it. The songs that stand out are those where the production falters for one reason or another: “Nuh Time / Tek Time” relies on an underwhelming beat switch, while “Claim” utilizes too much mid-2000s sounding synth. Both tracks quickly become forgettable.
dvsn finds itself tiptoeing a tight line because it still excels in a certain comfortable alt-R&B space. It’s natural to look for more a second time around, but the duo realistically can only function as its most organic self, an inextricably OVO-inked, Toronto-linked, Drake-child of crooning output. Accepting this makes a track like “Think About Me” that much better, even if it feels conservative in light of other recent Nineteen85 beauties like PartyNextDoor’s “Not Nice” or Drake’s “Madiba Riddim.”
Morning After is simultaneously a high quality release that also falls victim to the inescapability of its own cadre of love-oriented artists and fellow collaborators — PartyNextDoor and Majid Jordan come to mind — and it ultimately defines the release. “Conversations in a Diner” might be the best example of this, a back-end choral reinforcement providing an extra punch on a track that still somehow ends up sounding familiar. There’s a very real ceiling here, and it becomes increasingly curious if / when it can grow. Buehrle never really had that moment — he was really good, an incredibly satisfying form of entertainment, and yet, due to the nature of his own game, maybe not the realest thing. The analogy resonates here, especially in light of its latest release. Welcome, dvsn, to the Hall of Very Good.