“All I Need is a Beat, I Break a Four-Count”: Minneapolis’ Dessa celebrates her debut album at the Fine Line Music Cafe

January 30, 2010

On a night that turned out to be calamitous to the Twin Cities hip-hop scene, with the Twin Cities Hip-Hop Awards ending in a brawl at First Avenue (an atypical event for Minneapolis/St. Paul hip-hop), just down the street at the Fine Line Music Cafe, Dessa and the Doomtree crew of which she is the only female member collaborated in a truly fervent and energetic performance, filling the Fine Line with nothing but love from all involved parties.

Everyone’s lively spirits were for good reason: Dessa (finally) released her debut album, A Badly Broken Code, on January 19th, after releasing one album in Doomtree’s False Hopes series and appearing on numerous tracks on Doomtree releases. A Badly Broken Code finds Dessa exploring and experimenting with hip-hop, adding in strings, as well as singing frequently herself, all while still comfortably rapping within beats typical of the Doomtree sound, which is, as fellow Doomtree member P.O.S. says, “bringing the Bomb Squad density.” But most of all, these soothing, exploratory departures made me curious to see how Dessa would translate the moments to live performance. dessa300

As it turns out, my questions were answered quickly, when it became obvious that Dessa was going to split her performance into two halves: one with live instrumentation, complete with violin and standup bass players and two amazing backup singers, and another with the Doomtree crew, including Sims and P.O.S., along with Paper Tiger on the turntables (and laptop, as the custom has become at hip-hop shows these days). In between the two, as Dessa went to change out of her “uncomfortable” dress that cost $26, according to her, the rest of Doomtree took over the stage to entertain the 700 or so audience members.

However, throughout it all, the spotlight was focused on Dessa; during their set, P.O.S. pointed out how proud everyone in Doomtree was of Dessa and her new album and that it was great to see how many people came out to the Fine Line to show their support. For me, seeing the tremendous amount of support in the audience for a female hip-hop artist, in particular, was heartening. Women are, of course, underrepresented as musicians at large, but this curvaceously-shaped gap is especially large in hip-hop; it is a difficulty that Dessa addresses on “The Bullpen” from A Badly Broken Code, stating, “It’s assumed that I’m either soft or irrelevant, ’cause I refuse to downplay my intelligence. But, in a room full of thugs and rap veterans, why am I the only one who’s acting like a gentleman?”

For an incredibly talented writer and MC like Dessa, who happens to be a woman, it is a valid question, though one that goes unanswered as of yet. But, at least for the night, the focus was on celebration, triumph, and delight, a fact that was best exemplified by Dessa’s closing bit, a choreographed dance in jesting response to her nickname, “Dancing Ass Dessa.” (You can find it, like everything else these days, on Youtube.) As is the case with the entire Doomtree crew, Dessa does things her way, an independently-minded strategy that has and continues to pay off for her, hopefully for years to come.—Cassie Traun, Editor; Pictures by Jon Behm

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Beach House go deep inside the ever-spinning with Teen Dream

January 30, 2010

After seeing the monstrosity of overbearing, poorly executed drum machines that was Beach House live when they opened for Grizzly Bear, I had written Beach House off as a band I would never like. (In hindsight, shame on me.) So, when their third album, Teen Dream, was released on Tuesday, I reluctantly gave it a listen.

teendream220The drum machines still remain, but instead of being the foregrounding feature, they are bathed in waves of sound, making for a much denser, layered listen than their live shows. Victoria Legrand’s vocals, which have the qualities of a more polished, haunting Patti Smith crossed with baroque pop, remain the most captivating element of Beach House. Indeed, otherwise, Teen Dream is incredibly one-toned and of a static tempo; this, of course, could also be pitched as an argument in favor of its cohesiveness. The main theme of the album? Romantic anxieties, to put it simply. On “Silver Soul,” Legrand sums it up, “We feel it move through our skin. It’s a sickness, a manic weakness…It’s happening again.” The album’s closing song, “Take Care,” is a bittersweet, yearning ballad championing love, (“Stand beside it, we can’t hide the way it makes us glow”) yet questioning of its reality (“Deep inside the ever-spinning, tell me does it feel”).

On future albums, it would be preferable that the band attempt to expand their sound and emotional range; on its own grounds, Teen Dream is a sea of sonics, meant for sinking happily into and floating away meditatively for an hour. —Cassie Traun, Editor

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Vampire Weekend Parody An Indie Band

January 24, 2010

Contra? Who or what exactly are Vampire Weekend opposed to or against? As it turns out, nothing; the album’s title is just a play on words, a bad joke to mock or mimic The Clash. [Read more]

The Growing Vibe of Togetherness: U2000s, From the Prophetic “Elevation Moment” and Beyond

January 24, 2010

In U2000s, our ongoing series of reflective writings about the band’s first decade of the new century, contributing writer Laurie Britt-Smith looks back on the night she attended the first U2 gig after September 11, 2001, held October 10 on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and webcast, according to Edge, to the whole universe. The historic setlist included a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” Today, Dr. Smith teaches at the University of Detroit-Mercy where she runs the writing program. Her dissertation chapter examining Bono’s prophetic rhetoric has been excerpted here before.

When I first got the invitation to share in this reflective project, my first impulse was to write about the appeal for the One campaign that Bono gave during the Vertigo Tour. That five minute rhetorical moment proved to be my personal epiphany as all the theories about literacy and discourse communities that I’d worked with as part of my graduate studies suddenly clicked into place. But, that’s ground I’ve covered again and again over the last few years, and as I thought about it one more time, I realized the power of the moment, the ethos of the moment, was grounded in a previous U2 encounter.

In October of 2001, my husband and I were fortunate to have tickets for the South Bend Elevation show. It was their first tour date after the traumatic horror of 9/11. My husband noted it being the first show and mentioned it would be streamed on the internet, but I wasn’t really thinking about it. I just wanted to escape from the rigors of being a student and mother to 2 year old triplets. Plus, the arena at Notre Dame is an intimate venue compared to the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pontiac Silverdome, the only other places I’d seen the band.

We were up off the floor, perfectly centered over the end point of the heart, on bleachers. Great view, but I felt just a little too old for this, especially when some morons tried to squeeze in and spilled beer — which I’m pretty sure they weren’t technically supposed to have anyway — all over the floor. Plus, the energy in the arena was just strange, disjointed. People wanted to have a good time, but we were all still suffering and in shock. We wanted to dance and sing, but under it all was a current of pain that was all too fresh but was not to be named (or the terrorists win - remember?).

I remember the show started off great. The breaking of the fourth wall by running around the heart was a new aspect of their act, and it was so effective. Of course back then, I wasn’t thinking about performance rhetoric nor was I able to conceptualize how intense my study of it and prophetic rhetoric would become in my academic life. I just was enjoying the growing vibe of togetherness as the band reached out to us as a whole, unified group, chipping away at our cultural sense of being a collective of individuals.

Everything seemed fluid and in flux, an effect that was greatly aided by the lighting for the show, especially the images swirling on the walls and ceiling. In my memory, it all crystallized and became hyperreal, with the opening drumbeat and strains of a song so damn familiar it is cliché. So familiar it instantly taps into the heart of memory. Bono declared for the first time a line that would be repeated in many subsequent performances, “This, this was our song. But it’s your song now.” And the floodgates of emotion hinted at, opened. The song was “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

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The crowd hit the opening lines “I can’t believe the news today/I can’t close my eyes and make it go away - as one voice. The lament of “How long? How long to sing this song” temporarily united us all with those who have ever suffered the kind of anguish that first prompted those words to be written down by the Psalmist.

While we howled through tears, “Sunday/ bloody Sunday” I kept thinking, “but it was a fucking Tuesday. God, nothing happens on Tuesday. Nothing is supposed to happen on Tuesday.” In the music, the pounding and insistent rhythm of what is a very simple song, images of the day - smoke and ash, and falling people who chose to jump rather than burn - came rushing in to be re-examined and processed once again.

Taking up the group sing on “there are many lost, but tell me, who has won?” I felt myself being knit into the audience, a thread in a holy fabric of pain and determination and healing, “Tonight we can be as one/ Wipe the tears from your eyes/Sunday (Tuesday) bloody Sunday (Tuesday).”

The moment was a total surprise. A very necessary surprise and release of cathartic emotion. All these years later, the idea of U2 helping to heal 9/11 trauma has taken on a patina of cheesiness and obviousness to the cynics and the critics, partially because U2 took that moment and attempted to recreate it with so many afterward. But we were the first audience to receive the moment, to feel the rush of pathos that accompanies the prophetic call to memory, to lamentation.

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In the scholarly framework I use, the prophet unites the people by those special memories in order to lay out the new vision for the community. This moment was emotional - pathos, but also built credibility - ethos because it demonstrated Bono and U2′s ability to unite the community in a time of crisis. Without those types of moments in the Elevation years, including their performance at the Super Bowl (love it or loathe it, or both), the appeal for the One campaign and the current appeals for justice given during the 360 tour fall flat.

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The “Elevation moment” (or is it a movement?) was also the signal that the band had matured enough to mix the madness of rock n roll, which they had fun with during the 90s, with the seriousness of a message of love and peace that has been with them from the beginning of their career. Over the last decade, we have watched as they continue to balance the demands of public image with personal conviction and private struggle - a three way pull that has destroyed many who tried to get by just on personality alone.

In our culture, we increasingly demand perfection in our role models and set up either/or binaries that do not and cannot define the true complex nature of human existence. (Ironic, considering that many spout belief in a post-modern mindset that insists that nothing is fixed.)

Bono, U2, refuses to be one thing or another, and that really bugs some people (and we all know Bono’s reply to that). They are both/and, but remain anchored by what has become an unshakable faith in perfect love. It’s that perfect love that grants reality to their message of healing, conviction to their critique of the political, substance to their spinning of the visionary, and power to their call for justice.

They aren’t perfect people, and they are the first to admit that and celebrate it too. What they have found is a way to tap into what is perfect and share just a little piece of it with us all.

–Laurie Britt-Smith, Contributing Writer

Photos reprinted from various sources including U2tours.com and Sports Illustrated.

U2 Hopes for Haiti: Performs at Telethon, Releases New Track

January 22, 2010

Tonight, U2 perform with Jay-Z, joining dozens upon dozens of stars from all over the world including Springsteen and Coldplay in a telethon for Haiti earthquake relief. Performances will be filmed in New York, London, and Los Angeles. They will be broadcast beginning at 8pm EST in the US on MTV, NBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN and HBO and will also air online over YouTube, AOL, MSN, Yahoo and Rhapsody. [Read more]

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