Underground hip-hop’s unsung songstress Dessa and indie folk’s poppy majesty Feist have always been a step ahead of their contemporaries.
Making their returns with albums Castor, The Twins and Metals, Dessa and Feist continue to push the boundaries of music with songs that are driven by captivating arrangements and insightful lyrical content.
Hip-hop collective Doomtree’s soft-spoken yet fearless first lady Margret Wander — better known as Dessa — delivers a powerful blow in her new album, Castor, The Twins. A more organic, natural approach on last year’s A Badly Broken Code, Dessa’s latest album gives a fresh, new perspective on the tracks that helped solidify her position as one of Minneapolis’ most talented MCs.
On “Mineshaft,” Dessa’s spoken word delivery is backed by gloomy guitars, emphasizing her feeling of hopelessness as she repeats “it goes down” in the chorus.
And “Dixon’s Girl” becomes something of a jazzy, lounge session as Dessa sings and rhymes over melancholic piano keys and upright bass. The band intensifies Dessa’s narrative of the mistreatment of a woman with synchronized hits and powerful crescendos, resulting in a track that resonates with Billie Holiday-esque bravado.
“The Beekeeper,” an advance single from Dessa’s forthcoming album in 2012, is hauntingly captivating. Vibraphone, piano, viola and upright bass create a classical, orchestral abyss where Dessa’s expressive vocals are the only light shined upon staccato viola plucks and dark, somber piano strikes.
Taking a cue from fellow Minneapolis MC Atmosphere’s The Family Sign, Dessa’s experimentation with live instrumentation benefits her in many ways. Her witty and sardonic observations are made that much clearer through the use of brushed snares and soulful piano chords.
“You shouldn’t open doors you don’t plan to go through” says Dessa with a calm fury, her jabs acting as words of wisdom to a collective of oppressed and mistreated women.
Although Dessa proves she can be a modern-day hip-hop maestro, her flow has not yet synchronized completely with the natural atmosphere that accompanies her. Her second verse in “Mineshaft,” where she attacks with a blistering, staccato delivery, does not come out as precise and fluid as it did in A Badly Broken Code.
Dessa is well on her way to being the Tariq Trotter of female rappers. Like The Roots’ front man, Dessa shows the potential to be able to rap over just about anything. Where other rappers rely on mechanical, computerized beats to keep their flow punctual, Dessa challenges the norms of hip-hop by throwing herself in unfamiliar territory.
Although she has yet to find her distinctive voice, Castor, The Twin is proof that Dessa has the ability to become one of hip-hop’s strongest contributors.
Like Dessa, Feist continues to experiment and find her niche in Metals.
Metals is a gorgeous display of Leslie Feist’s songwriting ability. Where her last album, The Reminder, was overshadowed by the success of the poppy single “1234,” Metals challenges listeners with a repertoire that consists of orchestral sounds and dynamic arrangements that move with impeccable fluidity.
Opener “The Bad in Each Other” is an adventurous, electronic folk-ballad that lends itself to brassy swells and likable vocal harmonies. The rim shots throughout the song provide a stable base and groove for Feist as she croons over ascending chords that provide a blissful ending filled with overwhelming sound from all over.
“Caught a Long Wind” is beautiful and well-written. Feist’s vocal delivery is enticing: She sings with a haunting resonance, the shaking in her voice building tension as piano keys are gently stroked, clashing against a rising tide of cymbals.
Metals is a cinematic treasure due to its definitive sound. Feist exudes a sense of confidence and freedom in this album, not restricting herself to the pop formula that resulted in her mainstream success in 2007.
Sacrificing simplicity for complexity, Feist has created an album that works like that of a large puzzle: Each timpani hit and every low, vibrato-driven horn note contributes to a picture that displays moments of struggle and discomfort. But, like that of a beautiful Beethoven piece, the tension dissipates as a more enlightened Feist breaks out of her troublesome web.
Feist has a very distinct sound that cannot be easily categorized and can only be defined by the many ideas and sounds that encompass her music. Metals finds a great harmony between Feist’s poppy beginnings and her blossoming as a genre-bending musician.
Both Dessa and Feist are artists of innovation, pursuing a sound that truly defines who they are. Feist’s natural and effortless delivery is something that Dessa is well on her way towards achieving in the realm of hip-hop.
Unlike Feist, Dessa has yet to grasp the ingredients necessary to give her music that extra push. She has a distinguishable flow that is both her strength and weakness. Where Feist’s lyrics become a part of an intricate arrangement that moves with ease, some of Dessa’s lyrics become lost or overshadowed by the vast selection of instruments at her disposal.
Castor, the Twin is a strong release, but still has room for improvement to become like Metals.
Printed on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 as: Dessa's eclectic new album falls short compared to Feist