I’ve spent the better half of a decade following along a cycle. Not vicious, but simply repetitive. Never exactly the same, but consistent in many ways. It is personal in that I have consistently adopted the return to it, but non exclusive in its opportunity. That cycle has been following the musical career of rapper, author and vocalist Dessa of Doomtree fame.
I heard an interview she completed with NPR sometime circa 2011, and the philosophy degree toting emcee instantly captured my attention. At the time, I was proud to see that the worlds of philosophy, literature and hip hop not only could co-exist, but made space for one another. So often, I have encountered that most opinion of the art of hip hop for those unfamiliar is that it is a barbaric and lesser ranked than its peers. And, to be fair, most mainstream radio play lacks reference to philosophical thesis of Thomas Aquinas. But, Dessa not only carves her way into a deeper frame of reference than mainstream mumble rap, she invites her audience to delve into larger questions of love, heartbreak, faith and one’s station in the world.
Doomtree headquarters are located in Minneapolis, MN, a City proud of it’s mixture of traditional genre by hungry artists who are willing to stick their necks out and experiment with sounds long thought of as reserved. The Twin Cities have played as a launching ground for DIY-ers who produce music that speaks to them and a now broadening fan base. They aren’t New York, nor Los Angeles, nor Nashville nor Austin and in many ways that rallies participants to find their own identities and celebrate authentically.
So, suffice to say, I am a fan. Of The Twin Cities. Of Doomtree Records. Of Dessa.
Much of Dessa’s catalogue has been invested in or influenced by a melancholic breakup. Not every single track, but the haunting vocal runs that the MC can so easily flip into are hallmark of a great deal of her work since 2010’s release of “A Badly Broken Code”, her first solo record on Doomtree. 2011 brought a jazzy and vocal forward rework of many of the tracks from the initial release in “Castor, The Twin”. 2013 landed with new material in “Parts of Speech”, though much of it was still focused on a familiar personal topic. In many ways, Parts of Speech kept my attention in that it felt like updates from a friend still struggling with a situation, where you are interested to see growth and progress, but know that there is still so much investment they have in holding onto the struggle. 2014 had a slight rework of some of the Parts of Speech tracks, then 2018 provided a fresh take on Dessa’s “Chime”.
The emcee had called off the ghost of albums prior, embraced the process of the cathartic release from the relationship she had penned so many tunes from. Not to say that there are zero residual callbacks, but “Chime” speaks to a much wider variety of topics and how the artist identifies herself. It is a refreshing process to see as a fan, as much as I love a great heartbreak song. Something that speaks personally yet generally enough that a listener can apply it to their own life. It’s a specific niche that I have yet to see another artist so candidly tackle.
So, I am wholeheartedly awaiting the release of a live album that Dessa has compiled from performances at Orchestra Hall in Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to see one of the shows Dessa performed about a year prior to the ones recorded for this upcoming LP, and there was simply an overwhelming amount of hubris that can be shown by the artist for the body of work that a symphonic accompaniment can provide. The LP “Sound The Bells” is available for Presale now at a variety of price points/ package options on http://www.doomtree.net/store. While it may be too early to call, I have a feeling that this may well end up ranking on a best of 2019 list. The album releases 11/8/2019, for all who may be looking at holiday lists.
Our location this week is The Alkek Velodrome in Houston, Texas not far from where I reside. I have a couple of cruiser style bikes that I enjoy riding when the weather is nicer along back trails of nearby Cullen Park. The Velodrome, however appears to be all business. Teams of riders on much more customized (read; expensive) road bikes than I possess jockey for speed and ranking each Saturday along the curved track. The process itself is artful and poetic in a way, each rider attempting to keep pace and gracefully make their way to first as a final lap approaches. Riders become no less than half steam/half machine as they cycle through laps, comparing personal bests. The play between Dessa’s lyrics and the location were almost just too good to not feature, aside from execution of the beautiful melodies.
So, this week, I am proud to announce a surprise that has been in the works for awhile arriving in October. In addition to the regular weekly posts, we are celebrating Halloween in a new way this year. From 10/27/2019-10/31/2019, expect a daily post from the blog that may haunt and inspire you this year. Fall is here and there are plenty of other ways to celebrate than with a pumpkin spiced version of things.
Stay tuned, and as always, thank you for your support.