In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
In a year packed with high-profile music releases, nothing is more exciting to me personally than the prospect of new music from singer-MC Dessa, part of Twin Cities-based hip-hop collective Doomtree. I literally haven’t gone more than a week or so since their release without listening to Dessa’s 2010 full-length, A Badly Broken Code, or its 2011 follow-up of chamber-orchestration takes on old material, Castor The Twin, and I’m still finding new things to unpack on each listen: a turn of phrase, an allusion, a repeated motif that adds new dimension and shading to something I’m at this point intimately familiar with, but still learning new things about. Yet I’m also eager to hear and learn new things.
Dessa’s background in philosophy and spoken-word poetry means her lyrics tend to be sharp, enigmatic, and highly literate—she name-checks the Chicago Manual Of Style, for chrissakes—while still being thematically approachable and relatable. The title of her upcoming full-length, Parts Of Speech, bears that out, as does a newly released track from the album, “Warsaw.” But where Code and Castor tend toward the more rounded sounds of R&B, jazz, and chamber music, “Warsaw” is a more angular, less cuddly sort of thing. Dessa’s music has always displayed a heavy strain of melancholy, but there’s a sinister feel to the synth-y, beat-driven song that gives her words a harder edge.
Doomtree’s production—primarily handled by Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger—has always been its not-so-secret weapon, and Paper Tiger’s beat here inspires Dessa to indulge her more hardened, cynical side, the one that wears “new shoes and a bulletproof vest” and tells a preening suitor, “Man, you lay it on thick / It’s a dive bar / Save the game / You drink and you sit.” There’s no real narrative to “Warsaw,” nor is there much in the way of a hook or a chorus, which leaves little room for Dessa to show off her considerable singing chops. Rather, it’s a sort of mood piece pervaded by a sense of frustrated weariness battling with tenacious optimism, as suggested by my favorite line: “I sleep with both eyes open, standing up / Alone and holding off the rust.” It’s an interesting, evocative opening salvo to an album—out June 25—that’s sure to have many more interesting, evocative moments to unpack.