Album Review: “Castor, the Twin” by Dessa

Dessa's new album, Castor, the Twin


By Tom “Wonder Boy” Roth

Castor, the Twin
Doometree Records
Released October 4, 2011

Margaret Wander is smart.

She graduated from the University of Minnesota at age 20, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. For a while, she worked as a medical writer. Now, she teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music.

And somewhere along the line, she became a rapper.

The majority of people who’ve heard of Wander know her as Dessa. As a member of the famed Minnesota rap collective, Doomtree, Dessa cut her teeth as a hip-hop artist. Now, with the release of Castor, The Twin, she proves her versatility as a solo artist beyond the rap genre.

Castor is a collection of ten previously released, and one forthcoming Dessa track. Including recordings from her 2010 debut album, A Badly Broken Code, Castor represents a modification to Dessa’s pre-existing solo work. However, this is no simple compilation album. Maintaining the lyrics of each song, Dessa completely replaces the hip-hop instrumentals with clip-clopping marimbas, growling cellos, and sweeping cymbals. The result is a completely new perspective on previously familiar tracks. The simplification on Castor, it can be guessed, comes from her work with The Boy Sopranos, a mostly female a capella group she helped establish.

Dessa’s lyrical talents remain undisputed but with the instrumental revisions on Castor, her creative ways of supporting her words shines through. The gritty, accusatory message on “Alibi” is somehow softened when it’s only standing in front of a piano and a violin. Concluding the album, “The Beekeeper”, is a preview of Dessa’s as-yet-unnamed 2012 release. A complicated blend of keys and strings crescendos upon reaching every refrain as Dessa showcases her verbal mastery. With lyrical nods to Greek mythology, beekeeping, and biblical creation stories, it’s not hard to tell that Margaret Wonder is indeed, smart.