Dessa—CHIME (2018)

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Review by: Michael Strait

Assigned by: Graham Warnken

I am, as is known, among the most deeply white individuals ever to spew forth from the Earth here in the land of everlasting swamp. So understand that when I say this music feels like it’s made for people even whiter than me, I’m talking proper white. Like, rural-Minnesota-in-winter white. Works-part-time-at-a-co-operative-local-market-in-Vermont white. Plays-Space-Wolves-in-40k-white. Listens-to-Aesop-Rock white. Gives-away-flip-flops-to-random-stranger-while-drunk-on-a-night-out-in-Winchester white. White, essentially, in the sense that it is so utterly, mind-bogglingly, overwhelmingly, profoundly bland that it blinds me; white so glisteningly pristine that it is difficult to look upon without pain.

Sorry, Graham, but this is some really boring shit.

This girl raps sometimes, sings most of the time, and ends up boring me to death either way. Her rapping occasionally verges on outright annoying, what with her blabbermouth philosophy-on-sleeve style, and that hackneyed crescendo at the end of “Fire Drills” – in which she gives a glossy new rhetorical coating to a whole bunch of perfectly correct but nonetheless fairly fucking obvious Feminism-101 bullet points, presumably relying on reaching an audience young enough to find them revelatory and life-changing – is probably the moment I first realised this album wasn’t ever gonna do it for me. The synths are expensive and dark, but they’re creating an atmosphere that reminds me of the average YA dystopian novel, too glossy and lightweight to convey any real danger or menace to anyone who’s brushed up on the adult stuff. She, meanwhile, is the pretty young protagonist at the centre of it all, relatable and strong without being off-putting, smart in a way that doesn’t seem intimidating. Of course, pay attention to her more intelligent moments and you realise she’s got little new to say; “Velodrome” is probably the most pleasant song on the record, but its lyrics amount to nothing more than a restatement of the profoundly unshocking idea that free will might not be quite so free after all. Nice metaphor, sure, but it says a lot that the closest the album comes to genuine lyrical intelligence is a fairly clever restatement of one of the oldest philosophical conundrums anyone can remember.

You’d think she’d be a little better if she just stuck to singing pop songs about her heart, but nah, she ain’t. Songs like “Jumprope” and “Say When” simply do not exist; they contain vocals, synths and lyrics, alright, but somehow it all amounts to a void, combining into purest, emptiest possible nothingness. This album mostly sounds like a sort of bland Tove Lo or Tove Styrke record, with the same kinda synths, the same kinda melodies and absolutely nothing memorable sticking out whatsoever except maybe the occasional obnoxious lyric. “Rap real fast, but that’s on purpose”, she winks on a brief interlude near the end of the album, and it just makes me sigh slowly as I contemplate finding some sort of way to crush her under a grand piano. The closest she ever comes to emotional catharsis on this record is empty, distant melodrama, making molehills that look like mountains if you’re close enough on tracks like “Ride” and “5 out of 6”. (Distinguishing lyric on the latter: “I don’t need an agenda, I just tell the truth!” Are we going for some sorta post-ironic Nigel Farage chic here? Fuck outta here with that telling-it-like-it-is posturing. I’ve no time for demagogues.)

I think it’s instructive to conduct a little thought experiment: imagine if tracks like, say, “Half Of You” or “Good Grief” were thrown in the middle of, I dunno, a Rihanna album, or maybe a Katy Perry album if you’re feeling mean. Would they be highlights? I mean, in the technical sense yeah, probably they would. But would they be immediately distinguishable as highlights? Mmm… no, they wouldn’t. These are the sorts of tracks that behave like active camouflage, blending perfectly into their surroundings and making themselves almost invisible, absorbing the quality level of the music around them and offering nothing to hook you or draw your attention away from the rest of the music. Competent, utterly invisible stuff, and trying to focus on it is like trying to shoot a stealth Elite with a Needler in Halo. My point is that these would feel like filler on even a bad album, even if they were technically better than the songs surrounding them, and here they just slot right in amongst other songs that are all of exactly that type, giving the whole album an uneasily ephemeral, ghostly character that doesn’t feel at all intentional. I’ve listened to this album twice, but it passed right through me; I’m relying on my notes ‘cos there’s nothing here to actually remember. White and bland as an English Sunday roast.

I’m not even wastin’ no more bars on this prick! – Devilman

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