Wednesday, March 2, 2011

10. Album Review: Dessa-"A Badly Broken Code"

     What I find hilarious, is that between Odd Future, a group of perverted, anarchistic teenagers from Los Angeles, and Dessa, a spoken-word practitioner, a white girl from Minneapolis, they are putting 90% of the competition to shame. Begat from the Doomtree Collective, which includes the likes of P.O.S. and Sims, Dessa Darling released the False Hopes EP in 2005, which was the epitome of "short and sweet", clocking in at 15, pretty spectacular, minutes. 5 long years later, in early 2010, A Badly Broken Code, her debut LP, was released and fuck me sideways, is it a listen. Feeling like a mixture of Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple, as well as featuring some of the most atmospheric production I've yet to hear from the Doomtree camp, A Badly Broken Code, putting it mildly, tears shit up. Let's go in-depth.

1. Children's Work
     I love how the keyboard loop stutters, reluctantly kickstarting itself over and over again. It's like it's mimicking the memories that Dessa frankly recalls and how they're getting revealingly drug through the mud and up to the surface.

I'm stuck as hell.

     I'm fairly confident that this track reflects on Dessa's relationship with her younger brother, the differences between them and how they've helped each other grow. She really hits home with some of the imagery here, on lines like "and I made you a library, of tiny books with spines two inches high". I can relate to that, and the stress she puts on "library" is dangerously soulful
Memorable lines:
"Now we've got a grown up love
And I know that's how it's supposed to be
Same old story, Mom gets Easters 
Lets Dad have Christmas Eve" 
2. Poor Atlas 
     A ethereal, layered, a capella "instrumental" compliments Dessa's sinister sounding, prayer-like recitation of "I'm building a body from balsam and ash". This is too short to be considered an average song, and too stirring to be considered an average interlude. Dessa harmonizes nicely with herself here, dispensing an appetizer for her singing voice later on.  
Memorable lines: 
"I'm building a body
From balsam and ash 
I'm building a body
With no God attached 
I'm building a body
From blueprints in Braille 
I'm building a body
Where our design has failed"
3. The Crow 
     Dessa spits some impressive multis here, but the beat is a disappointment. An inspirational tune, regardless. Her choice of words are truly evocative, not just in a "I-know-what-you're-saying" kind of way, but in a "place-you-there" manner as well.  
Memorable lines: 
"And when the big one comes
You'll know by the snare roll
You can be too careful 
Ignore all the scarecrows 
Time flies, like the crow does 
No regard for the grid 
I can't ask you to show love
But would it kill if you did?" 
4. Dixon's Girl 
     HallelujahwhenIdoya. This is a jam. Hot, sticky, and sweet. From your head down to your feet. Invoking a "Roarin' 20's" vibe, after the introductory verse, Dessa drops it low and sultry. Hot shit. I don't think I've ever heard the singing-rap technique done so smoothly. The instrumental has a playful, wry quality to it, mirroring the lyrics. The chorus is a beaut. 
Memorable lines: 
"Haven't met so many women in this business that I really like
But you can hold a little liquor, you can hold the conversation
You can hold your own mic" 
5. Mineshaft II
     The song so great, it demanded a sequel. Seriously, listen to the original "Mineshaft" off of the False Hopes EP, and you'll catch some parallels between these two. This is a highly detailed narration. Of what, you'll just have to listen and find out. Powerful production from Cecil Otter. Suffice to say, it's intense.

Memorable lines:
"You opened your heart up
Right there on a napkin on the carpet
And part of it was frostbit,
But you've always been a smart kid
Could still distinguish: the blood black as pitch,
Valves had gone stiff, veins and scar tissue
Four chambers just a standard issue
But none had room, forgiveness is huge
And you had two full of ice water
One full of salt, one packed with coal
Eager and ready and willing to find fault"
6. The Chaconne
     This starts off sounding just like Leona Lewis's "Better In Time". Although that's a nice song, this one is much better. The male vocalist, Matthew Santos, crafts a pleasant and fitting chorus. Dessa's delivery and pacing is fantastic. A cautionary tale of sorts, about obsessive artistic endeavors and how it can wreak havoc on your personal life. Doesn't exactly warm the cockles of your heart. What is a cockle anyway?

Turns out it's this. Idioms sure can be dumb. 

Memorable lines: 
"Another nosebleed
Roses on the pillowcase
The fever breaks,
And you're back on Earth again"
7. Matches to Paper Dolls 
     Dessa explores the pitched-up vocal sample. It works. A common theme in these songs is Dessa's focus on doomed relationships that are obviously unhealthy for both parties involved, but yet they still suffer from some strange, toxic attraction to one another. Pretty riveting, given her flair for dramatic language and wordplay. The chorus is all you'll ever need in life. The way she milks the shit out of "I know it's madness, to play these odds" sends chills so far down my spine, my neurons get the bends. Bends. Hm.

Yeah, but can he fellate himself? 

Memorable lines: 
 "Now we're lost
Between love and cholera 
Saccharine read, such a sentimental novel
Give you cavities if it doesn't drive you to the bottle
As for me, I'll take another kerosene if you got it
Something harder, look, like a moth you see
And I still get chills when you talk to me
But the years pass by now in twos and threes 
These thrills ain't as cheap as they used to be"
8. Go Home
     More of a slow jam than any song before it, but without the sweetly romantic connotations associated with a "slow jam". It sounds more like a woman trying to talk her male co-worker, and herself, out of having an affair. Scandalous.
Memorable lines:
"And it's time we put a
Line down in the dust
I know what friendship is
And it sure doesn't feel like us" 
9. Seamstress
     The moans in the beginning remind me of the opening scene from The Goofy Movie. 

Anybody? No? Shit. 
     Some extra plucky strings are plucked extraordinarily, and then Dessa begins drop knowledge alongside an ominous tambourine. It sounds subdued at first, but you can feel the tension bubbling up like witch's brew, finna burst. Then the flood gates open and the beat goes fucking gangbusters. It's hard to avoid shitting yourself, so brace yourself beforehand. The subject matter sounds like a modern day "Clean Up Woman". But a lot more threatening. 
Memorable lines:
"And I came to write a letter
But my pen was full of hymns 
I came to drown a sorrow
It seems they've learned to swim" 
"Well, I'm putting you out of my misery
We ain't got much, but we've got history"
10. Dutch
     Sounding completely unlike like any other female artist who explores this path, Dessa deftly establishes herself as a "bad bitch" in a far more competent and portentous manner than I've ever come across.  And not even in a coquettish, "fuck you" kind of way. More like a femme fatale. Like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown

Memorables lines: 
"Innocence is overrated
Based on what you haven't done
I don't need a poker face
Open book, smoking gun
Renegade agent,
I got no taste for races
I run a whiskey and risk
And ennui and impatience"
11. The Bullpen 
     Ha, a funky ditty! Easily the most upbeat track on this album and the closest Dessa gets to a self-promotion rap. You go, girlfriend. Uh. Makes me want to krump. 

The fact that she can do this is simultaneously fascinating and emasculating for me. 

Memorable lines: 
"Looks to me like a little of your true school
Is at the shallow end of the typing pool
All cloak, no dagger
Just smoke and swagger" 
Best step it up, fellas. That's some keen shit. 
12. Momento Mori
     A tender little number that has a few things to say about life's transience and other unimportant stuff. Unfortunately, that backbeat is getting a little redundant, being especially noticeable on my umpteenth listen. 
Memorable lines: 
"I'm hopelessly nearsighted
Not much for stargazing
But couldn't let all of 
Those meteors pass"
13. Crew 
     A really charming ode to Doomtree, showing Dessa's fondness for her collective by sounding quite genuine and personal. Also, this samples "Ghost Ship In A Storm" from Jim O'Rourke's album Eureka, which features some of the best cover art involving stuffed animals, ever. 

C'mon. That's great. Who hasn't, really?

Memorable lines: 
"But 'member when we didn't have a dime to stop on 
All night, trying to write a decent pop song
Dot-net, 'cause somebody already had the dot-com 
Get in, let's go, g'head, c'mon
Boys in the basement, beats through a bass amp" 
14. Alibi 
     A Jay-Z reference that works well without spelling it out. I can visualize how Dessa looks throughout this song; pursed lips, a withering stare with her hands on her hips, and perhaps even sporting a waggly, disapproving finger. Reminds me of my mother. Except my mother is a sweet lady. Reminds me of a mean mother. Like Sharon Stone in Casino.

What an asshole. 
Memorable lines:
"But the word on the street is a page out of Blake
Your man made money, but he made mistakes 
And now that revelation's coming
Looks to you for a break
You've always been cunning with those brave escapes"  
15. Into the Spin
      A brief outro. Somber violin. Pretty cooing from Dessa. Not exactly a fitting closer, but pleasant as a stand alone.    
Memorable lines: 
"It's lovely and brief
With just gravity and me" 
Worth the time?
     Dessa's background as a spoken-word performer and writer is painfully obvious because the lyricism is top-notch and extremely literary. Like, this is embarrassing for other emcees. Dessa can rap with emotion to spare and passionately sing the expertly fashioned choruses. She has the odd ability to write lines that seem very homespun, utilizing an inherently colloquial vocabulary, as the slang isn't out of control, but rather, familiar feeling. The one quibble I have about A Badly Broken Code is that the production is occasionally monotonous, although still awfully good, but isn't quite worthy of such killer rhymes. Just a little more variety and this would have been even more crackerjack than it already is. Regardless, I'm mad excited for any of Dessa's forthcoming work. 


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