Saturday, October 12, 2013

Parts Of Summer, Waiting For Winter

It's great being wrong.

I remember being worried in my review of Castor, the Twin that Dessa's aim was to align herself with a field where she wasn't so interesting or striking, and by and large with Parts of Speech, she has done that. Sure, there's more straight-forward rap bangers like "Fighting Fish" or "Warsaw", but Parts of Speech is defined by Dessa actually full on singing.

And so, I expected the approach largely to fail to my ears. The trouble for me is, Dessa succeeds and at some points, gloriously.

Where I must eat a full plate of crow and maybe two or three is "It's Only Me." It's precisely the song I was afraid of. It's 3:48, with one verse, two choruses and a hyper-long bridge. Most of the song is soft cooing and light instrumentation, courtesy of Dessa's backing band. It's the thing I was most scared of and after living with the disc for three odd weeks, it's my favorite song on Parts Of Speech.

(Don't tell anyone. I have a reputation to maintain. If they ask, it's "Warsaw." Blade Runner club jam, bro. But you and me? "It's Only Me.")

It could not exist without Dessa's backing band, the same jazz guys on Castor, The Twin, who deliver on "It's Only Me" a restrained and soft background over which Dessa sings.

"I've been having that dream / it seems I always will / I don't know what the thing means / except it sends me to the telephone."

Parts of Speech is well-realized melancholy, the first record of new material written with and for a group of jazz guys to perform behind her. That should be clear on its face, but this writer has a keen grasp of the obvious. I was cautious during Castor, I think, because the record was written around Doomtree's compositions. Speaking of which, Paper Tiger does a great job on the one-two punch of singles "Call Of Your Ghost" and "Warsaw." Parts Of Speech does not suffer anything in interpretation.

As for the rest of Parts Of Speech, it's a regrets record. I listened to it in a darkened Las Vegas hotel room, complete with a two foot long stain in the carpet and my cell phone off. I drank a lot of tequila for a week and lied about why I was in town. Parts Of Speech suited that mood like a pair of opera gloves.

It's not all sad slow jams, but those stick out to me. "Skeleton Key" is upbeat and good in the sense of the song is solidly constructed, but I doubt it will be anyone's favorite. By the time you get past "Skeleton Key," you understand what you're in for. "Dear Marie" follows that one and it's a letter to a Marie, with the subtext I'm guessing, of Dessa kissing Marie's boyfriend. It is followed by a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm Going Down."

You did read that correctly. It is effective. The song feels morose and aches.

There's less powerful tracks, of course. "Annabelle" or "The Lamb" come to mind. I skip them. They're important stories, but unsuccessful songs, to my ears. "The Lamb" lyrically bears a very strong resemblance to the story of "The Chaccone."

The Chaconne:
"first a darling
then a marvel
when we met
I was still a young girl"

The Lamb:
"If they ask me, I'll deny it
But I remember what you did
While it's true you were a young man, then
I was just a kid"

"Call Off Your Ghost" is probably about the same person as" Go Home." "Icing Burns," a non-album track included with my bandcamp download, I'd bet money is about the same person as "Alibi."

Parts Of Speech got released in the spring/summer of 2013. It doesn't at all feel like a summer record. It feels appropriate for frigid weather. It feels like it ought to be there in your ears with winter's chill around your neck. Maybe I'm feeling too much of the Minneapolis in the record. Parts of Speech feels cold and distant, like a faraway wave goodbye.

In the Phonogram parlance, "It's Only Me" is a curse song. Listen to staring at a text message or a picture and it'll work its melancholic charms.

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