I had never heard of Dessa before. Evidently she is a rapper, singer, poet and songwriter and is part of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree. As versatile as she is, Dessa faced down a string of challenges in getting to the Tiny Desk. Near the tail-end of a tour — during which thousands of dollars’ worth of her band’s gear was stolen — her voice started to give out as she battled a bad cold. (Keep an eye out for her expression of relief at the completion of “The Man I Knew” in this set.) And, of course, Dessa and her band had to come up with ways to perform three songs from Parts of Speech in such a way that the drums and guitars wouldn’t drown out the unamplified voices of herself and singer Aby Wolf.
I wouldn’t have known she was sick at all, as her voice is pretty powerful. She raps the first song, “Fighting Fish” (I love that it references Zeno’s Arrow) I like the grooves of the music and the simple guitar licks. But it sounds amazing when Wolf starts singing. Wolf has a great voice. For the second verse, Dessa speaks more than raps—if only they could both make better use of the mic.
For the second song, “The Man I Knew,” the two sing a duet quite lovely. And I like the way they each seem to highlight the end of each others’ lines with a harmony note. I can’t help but think that Aby steals the how a bit. The guitar and bass have simple but delightful riffs. And the middle part with the counterpoint is very cool
I like the guitar sounds of “The Lamb,” and Dessa’s voice is great on this one.
Her lyrics are somewhat aggressive but really spot on: “You’ve got a way with words / you got away with murder” and “They can sew your hands together but they can’t make you pray.”
I am curious to see what her full band sounds like because this stripped down version is really good.
[READ: August 28, 2016] “Vladivostock Station”
This story opened my eyes to something I was unaware of. The narrator’s father was a Korean refugee from the second world war. After the war his father settled in Russia and had children with a local woman. Evidently this was quite common, although I’d never heard this before. So the narrator is half-Korean with a Russian name. I’s never heard of such a thing.
But that’s not the point of the story at all. Rather, it is the story about Misha and his old friend Kostya. They have known each other for ages. Kostya worked at Misha’s father’s hotel for many years, but the two lost touch. In the meantime, Misha had become an employee of the railroad –he repaired the insides of older trains.
Kostya had flown planes for the military at the nearby base. Misha had gone to visit him a few times but Kostya never came to see him. So the soldiers just escorted Misha home.
Both of the boys grandparents’ had been interred on an island in the sea during the war. For 6 years they slaved while others died. They were occasionally brought to the edge of the island to bathe. Some even tried to flee but escape was impossible. Often dead bodies were found washed ashore.
When they were boys, Misha and Kostya looked for the dead bodies, but when they were found doing so Misha’s father freaked out–it was like he had a flashback to his time there.
The end of the story has an interesting and thoughtful moment at the titular station. Although overall, the whole story feels more like little snippets rather than a cohesive story.