Released back in 2018, I first came across artist Dessa, and her album Chime, thanks to a Spotify track recommendation several months ago. The track I stumbled upon, Shrimp, was a super short and slightly silly track that presented the personality of the singer in a really interesting way. Her vocal line was a fairly fast rap vocal, mixed in with some very emotive spoken word segments and a really unusual flow. The track was unpredictable, catchy, and really intriguing.
From there I went to check out the rest of the album, and my goodness, it has quickly become my core source of good female empowerment energy in music. If I need a track that makes me feel like I can do anything, or one that makes me angry at the way the world treats women and gives me that good protest energy, this is the album I come to.
I’m not going to break down every single track on the album, but I want to talk about a few particular favourites, and why they’ve very quickly turned me into a real fan of Dessa’s very creative work.
One of the album’s early tracks, 5 out of 6, is a track oozing with the confidence of a woman who is determined to take up space and be seen. Dessa as an artist comes out the game early with some swearing drops in the track, presenting that she and the listener don’t need to be prim and proper to be allowed space to speak up as we are so often taught. The tracks shares a similar energy to tracks by artists like Watsky, tracks about being great and having confidence in that greatness to the point it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. While this isn’t entirely new ground in music, it’s rare ground for female artists to cover with this sort of confident energy, and is presented with its own spin. The title comes from the singer’s self acknowledgement that she’s not perfect, she doesn’t win every time.
“All I do is hit. I don’t win them all, but I;d say I take five out of six”.
This acknowledgement of occasional failure as being an acceptable part of rising to success is important, and is emphasized by imagery like a phoenix rising from the ashes. One defeat doesn’t mean you’re terrible, you can still come back and win the next five to show the world what you can do.
She also uses some fascinating imagery suggesting somewhat brutal body modification as a metaphor for going to great lengths to keep finding that creative push to do better and better, in a way that allows me as a person with poor visual imagination to really feel her description evocatively.
Next up, I want to talk about Fire Drills, probably my favourite track on the whole album in terms of the big protest energy it fills me with. The track lyrically focuses on the ways women are often taught to restrict themselves for their own safety, rather than crafting a world where they are safe to be themselves. It focuses heavily on the unfair burden placed on women to prevent acts done against them, and is very powerful in its execution of that message.
“We don’t say, “Go out and be brave”
Nah, we say “Be careful, stay safe”
In any given instance, that don’t hurt
But it sinks in like stilettos in soft earth
Like the big win is not a day without an incident
I beg to differ with it
I think a woman’s worth
I think that she deserves
A better line of work
Than motherfucking vigilance
Don’t give me vigilance
By definition you can’t make a difference
If the big ambition
Is simply standing sentry to your innocence
That’s not a way to live
That can’t be what a woman is
That gives her nothing to aspire to
What that is
What that is
Is just a life of running fire drills”
I don’t know what else to say about this track, other than that you should just go listen to it right now, it’s powerful as heck.
Next up is a track called Velodrome, a much quieter and more sombre track, with some really interesting lyricism about free will. The titular velodrome is used to signify a situation where we feel like we have free will, we have the ability to turn and make choices, but ultimately we don’t escape the small confines we exist within. Dessa touches on these themes in several ways, before introducing a really powerful section highlighting how our frequently autopilot lives can prevent us from doing the big dramatic things we need to do in order to survive, or do what’s right.
“Eve leaving Eden in a makeshift dress
With a bell to tell us when we’re hungry
There’s a bell to tell us when we’re tired
A bell that tells us to rise and fight
A bell to rise and die
It’s just all bells
Sometimes I ring myself
To see if I might chime”
The next track on my list to discuss is Jumprope, a track at its core about working hard under tough conditions and additional constraints, and how that ultimately makes you stronger when placed back on a level playing field. The titular jumprope is used as a pretty simple metaphor for trying to keep your life on track and avoid getting tripped up, but as you get more comfortable with your routine being able to begin doing fun optional stuff along the way. You can take risks, like touching the ground mid jump, or having fun and trying to find love, if you practice hard at keeping the basic stuff manageable.
The final track I would like to discuss is I Hope I’m Wrong, a very different style of track, and one that caps off a narrative thread throughout the album. There are several quieter tracks on the album about the process of moving on from grief, and while I don’t necessarily think they are amazing tracks by themselves, this is the track that brings it all together.
The track is a direct song sung by the singer to an unnamed party, who from context clues in the lyrics sounds like it might be her mother. The person who has passed away believed in an afterlife, but Dessa does not, and in this really powerful track she vulnerably explores the fact that she really hopes her entire belief system about what happens after death is wrong, even though she can’t force herself to believe that.
The track explores Dessa being a person with few emotional attachments, but making an exception for a physical item from the diseased, which adds really powerful weight to the album’s other tracks on grief. As someone who grew up baptist christian and left that faith, I understand her struggle with wishing for a belief you can’t force yourself to occur, and the application of this to the diseased is truly powerful.
While this is far from an extensive review of Dessa’s album chime, I hope it gives you a sense of what makes the album so powerful and why it’s my favourite album i have managed to find this year. I highly recommend giving it a listen if you’ve been interested in any of what I have said above.