Dessa’s first new album in five years, Chimes, makes something known that should have been obvious all along to those who had any clue she was part of Doomtree (ahem, not me): this chick can RAP!
Now, I have to say, we’re in the time of the year right now where the weather can just turn on a dime to like apocalyptic Blarney-stone-kissing atmosphere, and today just DIDN’T seem like a Bottle Rockets type of day, so I went with Dessa, who I always thought has had this dark, tortured vibe about her, dispatching now from the latitudinal shift from St. Louis up to somber, gloomy Minnesota.
Minnesota, I have to say, is a place that’s pretty much never come wack. Everything that oozes out of there, it seems like, has a vital energy about it and turns a deaf ear to convention, whether it’s the post-punk of Husker Du and Soul Asylum, their luminous ambient scene including These Velvet Socks, or the hip-hop genus up there which includes, notably, Brother Ali, Atmosphere and, do a wavering degree, Doomtree. To be honest, though I found it good enough, I’ve never really been WOWED by anything from P.O.S., Paper Tiger and friends known as the collective Doomtree, the best effort of their catalogue or their collective’s autonomous catalogue probably being Dessa’s biting noir-pop project Parts of Speech in 2013, which from what I remember landed her on a lot of year-end lists. Really, even after this success, nobody even associated her with hip-hop at all, let alone Minnesota, despite that the album was built around computerized drums and a danceable boom-bap, to support the vociferous crooning.
From this standpoint, Chimes isn’t too much different, threatening at times to fall into Parts of Speech area stasis (remember, electronica, though at times exciting, is also the most disposable genre of music, just as video game experiences aren’t like REAL experiences), saved by some throaty, real-life vocals on the part of Dessa Darling, and of course, some gutty treks into rap, which more than being rhythmically crisp and well “chimed” is always understandable, mainly.
Chimes sways vigorously between moods on the first five tracks, the centerpiece of which is the culmination, the anthem pop “Good Grief” which builds to an excellent chorus bolstered by Dessa’s busy and cackling raps. “Boy Crazy,” then, the next track, doesn’t disappoint, dissolving into this otherworldly realm of solitude and reflection, taking the form of beautiful vocals from Dessa which sound a little like Christina Aguilera, still blanketing Lazerbeak’s boom-bap, though this time a slow, patient beat somewhat like Kanye’s “Everything I Am” (which remember was almost incarnated as a Common rap). Throughout its side b, then, Chimes proves to offer a wealth of different songwriting vantage points, from the leather-cool feel of “Shrimp” to the scrappy, energetic knack showcased on “Half of You,” wielding the lyrics “What if I could cure me of you?” Given the amount of acute melancholy dripped onto every Dessa album, this proposition seems pretty unlikely, and almost makes you glad, for her sake, that she only puts out a new record every half decade or so.