I Only See You When I'm Dreamin'

September 12th, 2017

You might not recognize the name "Dev," but you might know her number one song, "In the Dark." Dev hit the radio hard with her underground dance-pop favorite, "Bass Down Low," as well as a feature on Far East Movement's number one bop, "Like a G6." That girl you hear sing, "Poppin' bottles in the ice, like a blizzard / when we drink we do it right, getting slizzard?" That's Dev. Matter of fact, that's Dev's song. The hook of "Like a G6" was lifted straight out of her non-album single, "Booty Bounce," yet in an oft-quoted media bite, FEM seemingly lied about its origins, claiming the idea as theirs. So, okay... In 2011 Dev was everywhere. People had Opinions about "In the Dark." It was an ear-worm featuring throbbing bass and a trumpet line that was exactly on trend. It was catchy. It got annoying. Such is the life of a number one hit.

And then she kind of disappeared.

In that time she released one of my favorite songs, "Kiss It," featuring Sage the Gemini. She had a baby girl. Then in 2014, she left her mainstream label, Universal Republic, and went independent.

I like, "The Night the Sun Came Up," her debut album. It's fun, it's catchy, it's infectious, thanks largely in part to her main production team, The Cataracs (also responsible for "Like a G6," as well as Selena Gomez's, "Slow Down"). Dev brought a lot of personality, but The Cataracs were a huge part of her ubiquitous hip-pop sound with an emphasis on bass and (capital-H) Hooks.

Post-Cataracs, Dev predominately teamed with NanosauR for the next phase of her career, including the cutesy but forgettable EP, "Not All Love Songs Have to Be So Sad," and the two part "Bittersweet July" project. 2014-Dev further explored EDM and electro-pop. The hooks were less clean, and her wispy voice was often buried under cold synths. Fortunately, Dev's best feature is her versatility. Her voice is distinct without being overly recognizable. Sticking it front and center emphasizes her personality. She can pull off pretty songs like, "Perfect Match," and self-confident brat-pop-bops like, "You Want Me." Or in terms of her latest release, "Alone Again" and "Bad Mouth," respectively.

Despite the cover, which I like, but feels more apt for a collection of lullabies, "I Only See You When I'm Dreamin'" lands somewhere in between "Bittersweet July" and "The Night the Sun Came Up." On first listen, its electronic sensibilities seem closer to "Bittersweet July," but the tracks here have more clarity. The hooks are cleaner, the ideas are solid. As a genre, pop relies on songs building their own worlds. If they can't sell their picture or feeling, they fail. More often than not, "Bittersweet July" was forgettable. But six years after a career-defining hit like, "In the Dark," Dev seems to have found her own unique identity outside of her producers. On IOSYWID, Dev plays the cool girl with a twist: she's in charge of her narrative. "I deserve to have it all," she remarks on her opening number. "Even my diamonds are lit / you can't have my light / the shade can't dim my light," she chants on "Trouble."

IOSYWID is fun and breezy, flying through its thirteen tracks (two of which are short, spoken interludes) in just over thirty minutes. The album starts strong with, "Have It All," which has some of the strongest production, and is one of the catchiest beats, on the album. Like Rihanna's ridiculously popular song fragment, "Birthday Cake," "Have It All" begs to be expanded. Were it a full song, by radio standards, I think it would have the potential to be the album's break out hit. Instead, we dive into the lead single, "All I Wanna Do," which is a lyrical rehash of any other pop song about sex, including her own TNTSCU cuts, "In the Dark" and "Breathe." But instead of a trumpet or accordion, respectively, the left-field sonic element here is a touch of guitar which continues on into the really strange, "Trouble," featuring Marko Penn.

"Trouble," is kind of like Kesha's "Crazy Kids," which oscillates back and forth between a guitar driven chorus and a hip-hop verse. The difference here is that Kesha's track uses a lot of subtle tricks to make the change less jarring, while "Trouble" is deliberately less accessible. Dev's chorus is hazy, refusing to build towards its verse like "Crazy Kids." Instead, it's literally interrupted. "Hold up / wait / back up / bitch," cuts Penn. The song then launches into a trap-beat, over which Dev extols herself whilst partying.

"Come at Me," the other song released at the beginning of her album promotion cycle alongside "All I Wanna Do," sounds more like a lead single. It's exactly on trend with the current state of pop music, featuring a loopy, distorted voice sample and a slight world beat. Here, the story recalls Shania's "That Don't Impress Me Much." "If you want to come at me / don't hit hard like an enemy / no matter far you go / boy the answer is no." It's a little too slick to stick. Or perhaps it's simply overshadowed by the infinitely enjoyable, "Cloud9," which compares being of a higher echelon with being high. It's genius in its simplicity. "Way up, way up I can't hear what you're saying / I don't got no time, I got no Cartier for you."

"Bad Mouth" is kind of a mess. Its structure is similar to "Trouble," only it has more of a melody. I want to hate it, but it's built around a ridiculously infectious section where the line, "but it tastes so good," is cut and distorted and whirled around the guitar and synths. In a weird way, the song perfectly encapsulates Dev. "I might talk a little trash / I might shake a little ass / I bite harder than you thought I could / Yeah, I gotta bad mouth, but it tastes so good."

The strongest all-around song on this album, and so far the only one to break into her Spotify top-5 (at the time of writing), is her so-called 'ode' to "Drunk Texting." "Someone save me 'fore I lose control / my glass is empty and your voicemail full," she coos over a deep, dragging bass line. "I'm not known for being reckless / I'm just drunk." The music, the lyrics, and her performance stack up well, creating that drunk and slightly desperate feeling that transports you into the middle of the scene. "Sitting on my bed like / thinkin' 'bout you all night / I wonder what you're up to / it's 3 AM, I want you." As for the subsequent, "Bouncy," Iggy Azalea has tried making this song twice, and Dev's isn't much better. It's a slightly more fun retread of "Trouble," with a lesbian undertone. But at two minutes and one second, I'll let it slide.

The tenth track on the album, "Skinny Dippin'," picks up the themes of "All I Wanna Do." This time we get a little island flair with a sexy little brass line. It feels exactly like the "Find your beach." Corona Extra ad distilled into a song. "Boy I been thinkin' 'bout you lately / skinny dippin' in a daydream / got me all caught up in my feelings / maybe we should take a trip."

The party comes to a head with, "My Way," another song that finds Dev stuntin' about herself and her lifestyle. Years ago, in an interview about "Blah Blah Blah," Kesha talked about taking the male gaze and turning it on itself. If guys could sexualize women, and talk openly about wanting to fuck them, she could do the same in reverse. The most consistent theme across IOSYWID is this same sense of bravado. Dev knows herself, she knows what she likes and doesn't like, what she wants and doesn't want. "It's my party / so Imma do it my way / throwin' bills, bills, bills / no Beyonce."

Now, I only see you when I'm dreamin'
No, I never, ever regret leaving
I deserve to have it all.

On "Alone Again," Dev connects back to the beginning. "Waking up in a cold sweat / I'm wondering if you're gone yet," she sings, lamenting not the man who's out of her life, but that she can't quite get over the perception of loneliness. The production tries a little too hard to make you feel for her. A stripped down version might have been a stronger choice, yet the production quirks are what make the song. The little whip-clicks in the chorus, the distorted violin--I love them. Still, Dev isn't really alone. She's not sitting at her piano crying. She's got a full accompaniment. And, she has her daughter ("ELG").

"I Only See You When I'm Dreamin'" isn't going to break the charts. It's not a mind-blowing experience and Dev covers a lot of the same territory that she's covered before. But it's balls-to-the-wall fun. It's empowered. And perhaps Dev's best trick is being more in charge of her story than she lets on.

6.5/10

"I Only See You When I'm Dreamin'" was released on September 8, 2017.
It is available to stream or download from all major digital retailers.
This post was originally posted on September 12, 2017 to my Wordpress blog. It was slightly revised on March 21, 2018.