From its first track, Dessas new full-length Parts of Speech (6.25.13, Doomtree Records) announces itself as something different. The Doomtree veteran and inveterate wordsmith having proved her mettle in the fields of creative non-fiction, spoken-word and hip-hop jettisons all genre expectations on The Man I Knew and croons a heartbreaking lament to a disintegrating relationship at an explosively-building clip.
From this moment on Dessa oftdescribed as Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker for the wit and flow shown off on previous solo albums A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin proves she has truly coalesced as an artist, transcending the restrictions of genre to reveal an astonishing multi-platform voice.
I wanted to investigate the idea that a cohesive record isnt always made cohesive by having twelve songs that sound the same. I figured when you make a mixtape for a friend, you can get away with a range of genres and a lot of dynamic change. Why cant I approach an album like that? The sequence has to be just right, and we worked hard to nail it, but the thing that holds this record together is the sensibility of the lyrics, rather than a uniform theme.
Track two kicks off a stunning hat-trick of the records standout numbers. Call Off Your Ghost is an admittedly haunting dirge on the struggle for grace in the wake of a long relationship. An arena-sized chorus tucked into a melancholy lullaby, Ghost has that unique ability to perfectly soundtrack new love or bitter breakup at the same time.
Dessa then puts her fists up for Warsaw. The track boasts a beat like Azealia Banks playing Pacman, which provides a background for our emcees confident, hypnotic flow. Narrative takes a backseat to mood here, as Dessa spits impressionistic one-ups like I sleep with both eyes open, standing up, daring you to blink first.
Skeleton Key contains Parts of Speechs mission statement: I havent met a locked door yet. An ode to female self-reliance that doesnt waste ambiance for message, the track plays like a great, lost M. Night Shyamalan movie, calling forth an era out of time in the story of a woman, a key and a bottomless reserve of courage.
This record involves multiple narratives. It explores the same themes of love, loss, connection and communion as a lot of my work, but the angle and lens through which theyre explored sets this album apart from my previous ones. The production techniques were new for me too we spent a lot of time crafting a record that could include live players, Doomtree production, and sometimes a blend of the two.
While the album is born of Dessas artistic vision, it benefits from the collaboration of her varied friends. Parts of Speech owes much of its impact to its diverse production. Dessa got her start as a member of Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree eventually going on to help manage the groups business affairs as they launched their own label and members Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger lend their production to several tracks.
The players in Dessas live ensemble all contributed to the record, as did several top-flight Minneapolis musicians working in rock, folk, and opera. She even enlisted a cellist she found on Pandora to make the gorgeously-layered foundation of penultimate track Its Only Me.
Dessa, born and raised in Minneapolis after her parents met at a Duluth music store, was valedictorian of her high school, eventually skipping a year of college and graduating with honors before she could legally drink. Armed with a philosophy degree, the intrepid Midwesterner spent her nights as a waitress and days writing reference manuals used by doctors in the implantation of pacemakers.
Language and verbal communication were important in my family. If I could argue my way into a later curfew, that argument was entertained. My parents may have regretted that policy later but it was a great motivator to help me develop a facility with words.
A love of words is evident in both Parts of Speechs title and its ethos, as Dessas philosophy training surfaces too. The rousing chorus of Fighting Fish references the Greek philosophical paradox of Zenos Arrow. Beekeeper, polished up from a starker appearance on Castor, finds Greek god Prometheus repossessing fire from the humans. Sound the Bells sings of Mercator, the cartographical genius who pioneered flat maps of a round world.
Parts of Speech could be made by no one but Dessa, but in its evolution and awareness it is the perfect culmination of the journey started with 2010s A Badly Broken Code. Middle album Castor, The Twin was in many ways a blueprint for Speech. The earlier albums were praised widely for their focus and depth, but Speech shows a fantastic breadth.
By uniting a wealth of different tones and narratives under Dessas unmistakable poeticism, Parts of Speech greatly resembles Sherwood Andersons modernist fiction classic Winesburg, Ohio. Dessa creates a new world, populating it with complex characters, beautiful sonic landscapes and refreshing, assertive production.
An album that can boom out of a car window after its summer release, or soundtrack a November night in, Parts of Speech marks a highpoint in Dessas career and demonstrates the crossover power of the rising stars burgeoning arsenal.
Bio written by Zack Rosen