The world premiere of Dessa’s new track ‘Twelve to One’
Music or lyrics? It’s the “chicken or the egg” of songwriting. Fans debate it. Entire podcasts are devoted to picking it apart. Dessa, whose song “Twelve to One” we’re introducing to the world right here, seems likely to fall in the “lyrics” camp.
“Coming up in Minneapolis,” it says in her bio, “she collected favorite words to decorate the walls of her brains; as a teenager, she thrilled in metaphor; and when she started writing songs and touring, she’d always lean in to pick up on the regional slang.”
As a fellow word-trafficker, “thrilled in metaphor” might be my favorite thing I’ve ever read in an artist bio. Just don’t expect to hear much of it in, “Twelve to One,” a deceptively upbeat-sounding tale of love, loss and letting go — or failing to.
If words paint a picture, Dessa starts the song dabbling in realism as she sets the summer scene. “Whole city sweatin’ on the platform.” “Bodies pressed against the train doors.” It’s enough to make you squirm while standing in an empty room. Meanwhile, a cheery beat and peppy keys/synth set a quick pace while the song shifts to a bummer of a bedroom activity:
Oreos and bourbon
I rent a movie and I watch it in bed
That’s a B-plus Thursday
And the past stays asleep in my head
But then the camera pulls back
A sea of people out in the park
I press pause, and I hear myself laugh
I lean in and I’m shot through the—
Oh, there’s your face in the crowd again
I see you all over town
It’s like there must be a dozen of you
But just one me and lately she’s breaking down
If, like me, you’re a lover of Kentucky’s best export, the first question you’re asking yourself is: “Oreos and bourbon? Like, separate or blended together?” Dessa anticipated this situation and will have an answer at some shows on her upcoming tour, which will feature a custom cocktail based on the lyrics.
As for the rest of the song, things just sort of keep moving along with a matter-of-factness. No sobbing. No pining. The person at the center sounds like they have an ambivalence about the whole situation, continually landing on the phrase, “I guess I’ll see you around.”
We can be more specific about when you’ll hear more from Dessa, whose album Bury the Lede (bonus word-nerd points for using a journalism term in your album title) comes out tomorrow, Sept. 29. You can pick up a copy — and also devotional candles if that’s your thing — in the online store here and find it in all the usual streaming places.