Dirty Projectors’ last regular album, Bitte Orca (2009) was a big success, both artistically and in the sense that it got the band listened to outside of the limited circle of NYC Indie initiates. After the digital release of a couple of singles and a collaboration EP with Björk in 2010, stillness followed in 2011. We thought that the band was unceremoniously slipping back into near-obscurity.
Instead, Swing Lo Magellan is a surprisingly logical follow-up to Bitte Orca and I’m sure it will further establish Dirty Projectors as an international Indie household name. The main components remain the same: prog-rock, Afro-pop and Alt. folk. The line up hasn’t changed that much either. Remarkable for a band that, according to Wikipedia, has seventeen musicians listed as ex-member (amongst whom Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koening and Rostam Batmanglij). David Longstreth, who is Dirty Projectors’ founder and prime songwriter, had seemingly found his winning team and formula when recording their fifth albums and is quite happy to stick to it for their sixth.
Bitte Orca was one of my favorite albums of 2009. I was fascinated by its simultaneous accessibility and obstinacy and with Stillness Is the Move it contained an MTV hit single that was a equally sublime a s it was unlikely. Angel Deradoorian, vocalist and bassist on Stillness Is The Move, has not contributed to the new album, but in guitarist and life partner Amber Coffman and vocalist Haily Dekle the Longstreth still has two fine female vocalists in the ranks. On Just From Chevron and The Socialites Coffman provides a welcome break from Longstreth’s wobbling head-voice. Don’t get me wrong, I like his voice and the way it constantly tricks you into thinking it’s going off-key. Especially on the Texas Fever-ish title track he reminds me of the esteemed Edwyn Collins. Can’t go wrong there.
Swing Lo Magellan contains some theatrical extravagances that now and then give the album a baroque touch. Even more love and care has been put into the background vocals compared to Bitte Orca. Sometimes the community singing is typically West-African, other times it’s close harmony. More than once do the two styles naturally glide into one another. Another example of Dirty Projectors incorporating baroque elements into their already impressive mix of styles is the piece romantic theater music towards the end of the humble Afro-ballad of Dance for You; it’s Broadway meets Shanty-town. Yes, Longstreth and Co. love their contrasts. Another one they successfully exploit is between gentle and raw. On opening song Offspring Are Blank – what a brilliant song title – it makes them sound a bit like St. Vincent, over-driven guitar and all. Can’t go wrong there either.
Like Bitte Orca and most musical masterpieces, it takes some time investment to truly appreciate Swing Lo Magellan. The most important thing is to not mistake Dirty Projectors for Vampire weekend and try to use their apparently accessible tunes as background music to cooking a meal or driving your car. You will soon find out that the changes of pace, volume and and tonality will irritate the hell out of you. At the same time you will miss out on subtleties like the guitar exchanges between Longstreth and Coffman, the crafty tUnE-yArDs-like percussional patterns and Longstreth’s disturbing lyrics that vary from abstract to confessional. ‘With our songs we are outlaws/with our songs we are alone/but without songs we are lost/Life is pointless, harsh and long’ he sings in Irresponsible Tune like some Morrissey from the new country. Could have gone very wrong there, but didn’t.
On the 23rd of October the band will perform songs from their unique new album and undoublty from their forlast unique album at the Melkweg, Amsterdam.
Psssst … besides making music David Longstreth is also busy creating movies. See the trailer of his upcoming half-hour movie Hi Custodian with music from the album Swing Lo Magellan.