The Crocodile & ReignCity present:
SIMS, Aby Wolf
2200 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA, 98121
This event is all ages
From its first track, Dessa’s new full-length Parts of Speech (6.25.13, Doomtree Records) announces itself as something different. The Doomtree veteran and inveterate wordsmith — having proved her mettle in the fields of creative non-fiction, spoken-word and hip-hop — jettisons all genre expectations on “The Man I Knew” and croons a heartbreaking lament to a disintegrating relationship at an explosively-building clip.
From this moment on Dessa — oft--described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker” for the wit and flow shown off on previous solo albums A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin — proves she has truly coalesced as an artist, transcending the restrictions of genre to reveal an astonishing multi-platform voice.
“I wanted to investigate the idea that a cohesive record isn’t always made cohesive by having twelve songs that sound the same. I figured when you make a mixtape for a friend, you can get away with a range of genres and a lot of dynamic change. Why can't I approach an album like that? The sequence has to be just right, and we worked hard to nail it, but the thing that holds this record together is the sensibility of the lyrics, rather than a uniform theme.”
Track two kicks off a stunning hat-trick of the record’s standout numbers. “Call Off Your Ghost” is an admittedly haunting dirge on the “struggle for grace in the wake of a long relationship.” An arena-sized chorus tucked into a melancholy lullaby, “Ghost” has that unique ability to perfectly soundtrack new love or bitter breakup at the same time.
Dessa then puts her fists up for “Warsaw.” The track boasts a beat like Azealia Banks playing Pacman, which provides a background for our emcee’s confident, hypnotic flow. Narrative takes a backseat to mood here, as Dessa spits impressionistic one-ups like “I sleep with both eyes open, standing up,” daring you to blink first.
“Skeleton Key” contains Parts of Speech’s mission statement: “I haven’t met a locked door yet.” An ode to female self-reliance that doesn’t waste ambiance for message, the track plays like a great, lost M. Night Shyamalan movie, calling forth an era out of time in the story of a woman, a key and a bottomless reserve of courage.
“This record involves multiple narratives. It explores the same themes of love, loss, connection and communion as a lot of my work, but the angle and lens through which they're explored sets this album apart from my previous ones. The production techniques were new for me too — we spent a lot of time crafting a record that could include live players, Doomtree production, and sometimes a blend of the two."
While the album is born of Dessa’s artistic vision, it benefits from the collaboration of her varied friends. Parts of Speech owes much of its impact to its diverse production. Dessa got her start as a member of Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree — eventually going on to help manage the group's business affairs as they launched their own label — and members Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger lend their production to several tracks.
The players in Dessa's live ensemble all contributed to the record, as did several top-flight Minneapolis musicians working in rock, folk, and opera. She even enlisted a cellist she found on Pandora to make the gorgeously-layered foundation of penultimate track “It’s Only Me.”
Dessa, born and raised in Minneapolis after her parents met at a Duluth music store, was valedictorian of her high school, eventually skipping a year of college and graduating with honors before she could legally drink. Armed with a philosophy degree, the intrepid Midwesterner spent her nights as a waitress and days writing reference manuals used by doctors in the implantation of pacemakers.
“Language and verbal communication were important in my family. If I could argue my way into a later curfew, that argument was entertained. My parents may have regretted that policy later but it was a great motivator to help me develop a facility with words."
A love of words is evident in both Parts of Speech’s title and its ethos, as Dessa’s philosophy training surfaces too. The rousing chorus of “Fighting Fish” references the Greek philosophical paradox of Zeno’s Arrow. “Beekeeper,” polished up from a starker appearance on Castor, finds Greek god Prometheus repossessing fire from the humans. “Sound the Bells” sings of Mercator, the cartographical genius who pioneered flat maps of a round world.
Parts of Speech could be made by no one but Dessa, but in its evolution and awareness it is the perfect culmination of the journey started with 2010’s A Badly Broken Code. Middle album Castor, The Twin was in many ways a blueprint for Speech. The earlier albums were praised widely for their focus and depth, but Speech shows a fantastic breadth.
By uniting a wealth of different tones and narratives under Dessa’s unmistakable poeticism, Parts of Speech greatly resembles Sherwood Anderson’s modernist fiction classic Winesburg, Ohio. Dessa creates a new world, populating it with complex characters, beautiful sonic landscapes and refreshing, assertive production.
An album that can boom out of a car window after its summer release, or soundtrack a November night in, Parts of Speech marks a highpoint in Dessa’s career and demonstrates the crossover power of the rising star’s burgeoning arsenal.
Restless and passionate but with an unflinching realism at his core, Sims has seen enough of life to know there are no easy answers. His second full-length release, Bad Time Zoo, out February 15th on Doomtree Records, reflects this rapper's ongoing quest for solid understanding in a society on the brink of dystopia. For Sims, it's been a long road.
Andrew Sims grew up in the working-class Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, Minnesota. His parents were both musicians with problems of their own, and Sims often had to look out for himself and his younger brother. "I was super short-fused," he remembers. "I got in fights almost every day until I was about 13."
He found solace in rap and R&B music, nurturing a love for mainstream hits as well as then-underground artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan. His parents didn't approve of his new love, however, so he built a secret stash of cassette mixtapes that he traded to kids at school. He soon found a gift for rhyme and begin channeling his aggression into feisty, kinetic wordplay.
His rap habit quickly grew from playground cyphers to recorded projects. In high school, he met a local producer and rapper named P.O.S. who would sell him beats for $30 a pop and let him record at his house for free. Eventually, their home-recording experiment blossomed into a full-on musical enterprise that would pull in other aspiring artists and help put Minneapolis hip-hop on the map.
Enter Doomtree. Hailing from the same untamed Minneapolis indie music scene that spawned both punk legends the Replacements and, 20 years later, hip-hop powerhouse Rhymesayers, Doomtree has become one of the most trusted and influential names in grassroots hip-hop.
Since its birth in 2002, Doomtree has grown from a CD-R-slinging, fast-food-fueled DIY collective into a tightly knit, business-savvy operation. In addition to Sims and P.O.S., Doomtree's roster includes some of the most daring artists working in hip-hop today: Lazerbeak, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, and Cecil Otter.
In a genre that all too often rewards imitation over innovation, Doomtree's artists strive for originality without sacrificing mass appeal. As a result, fans of Doomtree have come to expect uncommon hip-hop delivered in clever, club-rocking doses, and Bad Time Zoo will not disappoint.
Setting himself as spokesman for a generation fraught by vapid commercialism, political cynicism, and the paradoxical power of technology to both connect us and drive us apart, Sims seeks a path out of the disappointment that plagues modern life. The time of plenty, inbox full / So why do I feel so goddamn empty? he demands on opening track "Future Shock."
But while he casts himself as an alienated prophet, make no mistake: Sims' message is of empowerment, hope, and badass beats. The results are epically infectious.
Over the pulse and sway of Lazerbeak's urgent, expansive production, Sims raises 50-story verses and swings wrecking-ball choruses. With scenes straight from Darwin's nightmares – people as animals gorging in the streets ("The Veldt") – Bad Time Zoo is not so much a hip-hop album as a teeming, beat-driven urban wilderness.
On the horn-sample-driven first single, "Burn It Down," Sims raps like a red-eyed city planner who just downed his eighth Red Bull and Adderall cocktail and is on the street corner calling for destruction before renewal. Or take the thumping, wickedly funny "One Dimensional Man," an indictment of complacent liberals: You did your part, you gave your hundred bucks to NPR / You joined a co-op now, bought the hybrid car. (For the record, Sims votes Democrat and drives a hybrid.)
But lest you think you need an advanced degree and a machete to enter Bad Time Zoo, Sims keeps his narratives grounded and real, and Lazerbeak's musical compositions would sound just as good on a club PA as headphones. Just spin "Love My Girl," a pop confection that juxtaposes dark observations on the dating life with a surprisingly sweet candy center.
A pop-culture omnivore, Sims cites influences that range from the sci-fi of Ray Bradbury, to the films of David Lynch, to the 1940s graphic novels of Will Eisner. But most of all, Sims listens to the world around him.
"I draw a lot more from human interaction than I do from music," he says. "I listen and try to understand how people function."
Like all good writers, Sims has an ear for what makes us human.
"What are your soft spots? When are you at your most defensive, your most unabashedly happy or proud?" he elaborates. "Or when I see someone try to cobble a defense together when they're hurting. Those moments are noteworthy to me. I try to pay attention to them."
Pay attention to Sims, and you'll be better for it.
Dodging American Idol nearly her entire singing career, Aby Wolf has still managed to become one of the most highly regarded female vocalists in the Midwest. Wolf has sung and collaborated with an extensive list of artists that reads as a “who’s who” of Minnesota music notables. Aside from having a Bat-phone type deal that connects her and Dessa when the Doomtree star is in need of a backup singer (Dessa as Commissioner Gordon and Aby as Batman in said analogy), Aby has worked with the likes of everyone from loop warlock Martin Dosh, chamber-folk sextet Dark Dark Dark, veteran songwriter Adam Levy, fun-loving lounge trio The New Standards, and Rhymesayers’ BK-One and Brother Ali. Engendering her own music vision all the while, she transcended the title of “emerging artist” when in 2009 she won the City Pages’ best female vocalist award. Wolf continues to wow crowds this year with her current power-pop project “Wolf Lords,” a collaboration with beat mastermind Grant Cutler.
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