Release Date: Feb 21, 2017
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The first thing you notice is the lack of guitars. The next thing is the filtered baritone. After that the rapping, the chipmunk samples, the crisp R&B, the absence of three-part female harmonies and then… Then the deep, almost unbearable heartache as Keep Your Name - the opener on this self-titled album - slow jamz its way through the dissolution of a relationship: possibly a marriage, possibly a band if the quoting of Kiss' Gene Simmons is to be believed, most definitely something heartfelt, heartless and true.
We won't be afraid to grow With Dirty Projectors, Dave Longstreth has come full circle. The musical vessel that began in 2001 as a solitary endeavor has always possessed malleable qualities; adjusting and adapting just like the life of its versatile frontman. Longstreth initially created five of his Dirty Projector albums alone before he even so much as finished college, but then proceeded to surround himself with bandmates as touring ramped up and the band as a whole started gaining momentum.
Inscrutable. In a word, Dave Longstreth's work as the figurehead of Dirty Projectors has certainly been that. At the least, when it came down to the albums in the band's output as a whole, can one really narrow them down to a concept? Swing Lo Magellan may have offered glimpses of isolation and a vague sense of dread, Bitte Orca hope and rejections of the norm, but there's no pinning them down to something simply identifiable.
When Dirty Projectors shared “Keep Your Name” last September, their first song since 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, it presented a drastically different sonic iteration of the Brooklyn indie-rock group. Warped synths, clanging percussion, and chopped-and-screwed vocals -- sampled from the Magellan cut “Impregnable Question,” no less -- detoured from the pop-bound trajectory the band had forged since 2009’s star-making Bitte Orca. The question that loomed largest for many Projectors heads, however, concerned personnel: Where was singer-guitarist Amber Coffman? Two weeks later, Coffman released her debut solo single, “All By Myself.
Fusing sonic intricacies, captivating melodies and compelling storytelling, Dirty Projectors' eighth LP is their most honest and affecting yet. 'Keep Your Name' is haunting and harrowing, 'Death Spiral' is built on endearing piano keys and lead singer David Longstreth's wide-ranging falsetto flirts faultlessly on 'Up In Hudson'. 'Winner Take Nothing' becomes frantic as Longstreth concedes "in losing you, I lost myself", while 'Ascent Through Clouds' morphs from a minimal folk-style tale into glitchy electronica.
While Dirty Projectors mastermind David Longstreth has said the band's seventh album isn't entirely autobiographical, it's driven by his breakup with former bandmate Amber Coffman. The concept isn't all that alluring: an ex-boyfriend's account of a public separation doesn't sound like what the world needs in 2017. Luckily, it's not a typical breakup album.
Pitting the twinkling of a lounge piano against squelching burps of bass, bumble bee violins, and erm, a mangled sitar solo (and this is just within the space of one song) to call ‘Dirty Projectors’ merely saturated is an abyss-sized understatement. Streets apart from the lush orchestration and globe-trotting ambition of 2012’s ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ the follow-up swaps in natural brushstrokes for jagged, jarring slashes of opposing colours, and harsh colliding textures. Somehow, though, Dave Longstreth conjures up something resembling a clear picture from all the record’s wildly disparate elements, and ‘Dirty Projectors’ serves to unify his most experimental moments with the door-opening impact of ‘Bitte Orca’.
Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors is a break up record, about the end of the relationship between bandleader/dictator/technically-now-the-only-actual-member Dave Longstreth, and Amber Coffman, his longterm partner, guitarist and vocal foil. It is also, I would suggest, a break up record about break up records, in which the boffinish Longstreth studiously filters the demise of the relationship through a variety of different lenses - musical and lyrical - out of pure intellectual curiousity. "Complex plans and high ideals but he treats people poorly; is his ceaseless ambitiousness proxy for a void he's ignoring?" an autotuned Longstreth sings on the nagging electronic throb of 'Work Together'.
What becomes of the brokenhearted? Well, in the case of David Longstreth, they make some changes. Since the last time Longstreth made a Dirty Projectors album (2012's Swing Lo Magellan), his long-term relationship with Amber Coffman, who sang and played guitar with the group, ended. In time-honored fashion, Longstreth has made a break-up album, but 2017's Dirty Projectors has a musical personality that's decidedly different than most of the group's work.
Calling Dirty Projectors an experimental band, as they are commonly labeled, tells us everything and nothing about output ranging from obscure cultural references to guitar driven art rock. Now onto their self-titled eighth album, they appear to have gone full-circle, practically a David Longstreth solo project once more following departures that have had a lasting impact in more ways than one. Gone also is the heavier sound, replaced with loops and glitches, and a soulful insular focus, though the eclectic mix of styles and complex intellectualism of previous records remains, alongside raw emotion.
F ew musicians have embraced the idea of a clean break more enthusiastically than Dave Longstreth, bandleader of experimental indie outfit Dirty Projectors. His group's self-titled eighth record is a breakup album on three counts, documenting his separation from girlfriend and former band member Amber Coffman; from a chunk of the rest of his group (Coffman and fellow vocalist Angel Deradoorian are nowhere to be heard on the record), and even from indie itself, given the scathing takedown of the genre he posted on Instagram earlier this month. Here the band venture further into the futuristic R&B of 2012's Swing Lo Magellan, with the focus firmly on Longstreth and Coffman's relationship woes.
Dirty Projectors' latest offering lands them firmly inside 2017, coming in the wake of, although not directly inspired by, frontman David Longstreth's break-up with former partner and one-time bandmate Amber Coffman. At times, its unflinchingly honest exploration of post-breakup stages and head spaces is difficult listening. But this is also its biggest strength, as Longstreth's lyrics take the listener through bitterness, anger, melancholy, self-pity and remorse.
L ike Pavlov's dogs, the listening public has been trained to respond to piano ballads as the sine qua non of heartfelt authenticity. Machines, though, can be kaleidoscopic conveyors of emotion. Witness Björk's Vulnicura, an analogue/digital hybrid of untrammelled pain, or the proliferation of suffering digital dudes, best exemplified by Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak and much James Blake.
Alongside TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors were a key part of New York's radical rewiring of rock in the '00s. The Brooklynites were one of the more experimental bands on that scene, but also one of the most R&B-influenced; their 2009 breakout, Bitte Orca, so impressed Solange that she cut an exquisite cover of its philosophical slow-jam, "Stillness Is the Move. " Suddenly, head Projector Dave Longstreth was getting work as a pop-song doctor (co-writing the Kanye-Rihanna-Macca summit "FourFive-Seconds"), an arranger (orchestrating Joanna Newsom's excellent Divers) and producer (the latest from North African guitar god Bombino).
Like most people going through breakups, Dave Longstreth wants you to believe he's doing just fine. The nine songs on Dirty Projectors delve into his separation from former bandmate and girlfriend Amber Coffman , whose arresting voice over the past decade was as vital to Dirty Projectors' sound as Longstreth's own yelps and howls. It's impossible to ignore the context of the record, largely because Longstreth makes it impossible to forget.
This one is going to be divisive. Already a few fans have lambasted Dave Longstreth's new direction, which is understandable. The Dirty Projector's three albums between 2007 and 2012 were some of the best albums of their respective years, and occasionally, Dave Longstreth's guitar playing, Amber Coffman's vocal harmonies, or unexpected (and natural) song shifts (maybe all three at once) hit a mark that few other bands could.
In the insular world of celebrity indie rockers, David Longstreth and Amber Coffman were our Brangelina, our Bennifer -- a powerhouse couple working at the top of their game. So it's no surprise that their romantic and creative disillusion would be of keen interest to fans. What is curious, though, is that their split would be addressed clear-eyed and head-on in Dirty Projectors' return as a solo vehicle for Longstreth.
A little bit of self-righteousness, appropriately channeled, can be fun in a breakup album. Reality is generally more complicated, with both sides being at least partly in the wrong, but listeners often enjoy vicariously indulging in the fury of a spurned lover. There is a comforting, even cathartic simplicity to framing romantic separations around right and wrong, heartbreaker versus the brokenhearted.
The eternal quandary of the breakup record: how do you make an album that's born of suffering but not insufferable? How to channel heartache into art that's both personal and universal and somehow not swamped in self-pity? Blood on the Tracks turned to allegory and character study. On her 2004 album Uh Huh Her, PJ Harvey retreated inward, flung obscenities ("Who the Fuck?") and longed for a land without men ("The Darker Days Of Me & Him"). And in one of the most memorable statements on love's cruel dissolution, Fleetwood Mac, that most incestuous of '70s superstar outfits, confronted each other on 1977's iconic Rumours.
What would indie guitar music sound like if it took on the futuristic production techniques of modern R&B, hip hop and pop music? It is an intriguing question but one that few guitar acts seem interested in answering - remarkably few, in fact, given the way that R&B and hip hop have dominated contemporary pop music over the last two decades. Arctic Monkeys' AM borrowed something of the minimal snap of modern hip hop percussion; Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City bore the recognisable pop marks of co-producer Ariel Rechtshaid; and even Coldplay's most recent album A Head Full of Dreams suggested the band had been paying a lazy eye to what was happening in the charts. On the whole, though, the critically-acclaimed guitar albums of the last 12 months - Savages, Angel Olsen, Parquet Courts etc - have tended to be fixated on the past, which may explain why they were crowded out at the top of most of the year-end lists by more sonically expansive records from the likes of Frank Ocean, Solange etc.
Nearly five years on from 'Swing Lo Magellan', and it appears that the entire foundational bedrock of Dirty Projectors has undergone a vigorous seismic shake. Before announcing the band's self-titled return, lead-man Dave Longstreth kept busy by deploying his talents in service of some of pop's most revered laureates. Notable achievements include being part of the think tank responsible for steering the larger-than-life Rihanna/Kanye/Sir Paul McCartney axis on the stripped-down 'FourFiveSeconds'.