Release Date: Jul 10, 2012
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
The much-anticipated followup to Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors' 2009 art-rock breakthrough, is billed as "simple and direct." But that’s a relative statement with a band this squirrelly. Sure, there are love songs, big choruses and sticky melodies. Then there are chamber-music dissonances, talking-drumbeat sputters and quotation-marked power chords.
If ever you’re in need of evidence of the widely-held notion that indie-rock is getting increasingly boring alongside the snowballing trend of hipsterism, you might do worse than catalogue the popular reaction to the wildly inventive music of Dirty Projectors. After a series of elaborate and sometimes overly indulgent compositions on all of their past albums, much early criticism of Swing Lo Magellan seems to stress how stripped-down the record is, as critics are lining up to apologise profusely for how “challenging” their previous work was, as if to u-turn on the widespread acclaim of 2009’s Bitte Orca (for me perhaps the best pop record of the last ten years). But yes, implications aside, there is a distinction: whereas once, Longstreth was a composer, on Swing Lo Magellan he tries his hand at being a songwriter.
Swing Lo Magellan opens with a familiar Dirty Projectors motif: the sound of male and female voices, shaped into wordless instruments, swirling around one another. But the more significant sound is the first from lead singer and group mastermind David Longstreth, who begins the album by audibly clearing his throat. Always fascinated with the gaps between initial influence and finished product, Longstreth tweaks his methods here by reveling in imperfection, employing a series of self-effacing gestures that play up the jagged, chockablock nature of his songs.
Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan[Domino; 2012]By Philip Cosores; July 17, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG"Art rock" is a term that probably gets thrown around too loosely, but there will be little argument if you apply it to certain groups, whether that be Sonic Youth or, for the majority of their recording career, Dirty Projectors. But the term does not begin to do justice to the musical imagination of Dave Longstreth, who has managed to veer from concept albums revolving around figures as diverse as Don Henley and Black Flag to, on their previous beloved record Bitte Orca, something much more universal, exciting, and never without surprises. The trajectory continues on Swing Lo Magellan, an album with no real concept other than to flex Longstreth's ability to amaze through complex arrangements, melodies that seem equally foreign and familiar, and lyrics that for the first time can actually strike a chord for even the casual listener.
If you've only tuned in for parts of Dirty Projectors' decade-long run, it's entirely possible that you've viewed bandleader Dave Longstreth and his ever-evolving band line-up as a gimmick. After all, though Longstreth had been releasing music as Dirty Projectors for years, the band finally inched toward a critical mass in 2007 on an album that reinterpreted Black Flag's Damaged from memory. The album found Longstreth replacing Rollins' gruff bellow with alien, elastic vocals, anchored to the zigs and zags of West African guitar.
In 2008, Dave Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors broke wide on the purling back of Bitte Orca, a frenzied, rhythmic record that flaunted its own boundaries, with its tangled guitar lines and girl-group harmonies skittering beyond a given song’s meter like a river bursting its banks. The channel still churns on Swing Lo Magellan, but Longstreth has built sturdy songs with solid foundations here, trapping his confusion in a container. The drums skitter on “Dance for You,” but they’re cradled by humble strumming and a walking bassline that underscore the lyrics’ contented disorder.
Review Summary: A brilliant blend of the outer limits and the down-to-earth.For a decade now, Brooklyn-based experimental rockers Dirty Projectors have been providing an unconventional listening experience. Their penchant for throwing odd time signatures, thumping bass lines, mesmerizing vocals, and electronic elements into a blender and seeing what comes out the other side has yielded surprisingly consistent results – especially considering their brazen exploration of any and all things weird. Their last effort, Bitte Orca, was also one of their most well received.
Dirty Projectors go for a more conventional pop approach on Swing Low Magellan, but don't worry, they're still a million miles away from normal. They've traded African pop influences for nods to 60s folk rock, but you'd never mistake it for the current crop of retro rock revivalists. The focus is still the exciting friction between Dave Longstreth's wistful, wandering vocal melodies and the highly structured harmonies by Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle, grafted over deconstructed impressions of R&B rhythms.
Dirty Projectors have a history of creating delightfully grandiose records full of complex, sprawling arrangements and bizarre concepts. But where do you go after marking “suicidal Don Henley rock opera” and “Black Flag debut re-imagined from 15-year-old memory” off your musical to-do list? For Projectors’ frontman Dave Longstreth, the answer was simple. And as is often the case, the simplest answer proved to be the best one.
It's a luxurious problem to have, but if Dirty Projectors' virtuosic kingpin Dave Longstreth has suffered from anything, it's a surfeit of ideas – the music has sometimes sounded overloaded by the weight of them. Now, on the band's gorgeous sixth album, there's a new directness to the songs. They still crackle with that antic energy, but melody prevails over arrangement and everything seems driven by humility.
As Dirty Projectors’ origin story goes, frontman David Longstreth dropped out of Yale when he found the environment not so conducive for the kind of music he wanted to make. Not to read too much into his biography, but it’s easy to imagine Longstreth as one of those gifted and talented types who excelled in school even if he didn’t find so much use from what a formal education had to offer when it came to where his overactive imagination wanted to go. There has always been a precocious and inquisitive quality to Dirty Projectors’ art pop that goes beyond being book smart, even if it’s hard not to notice the highbrow neo-classical elements to their songs.
Whether one has been charmed or lost by Dirty Projectors' free willingness to chase their muse anywhere the wind has blown it over the past 10 years, their latest album is a winner either way. Swing Lo Magellan packs as many different ideas as ever into a new set of songs while offering perhaps the clearest and most satisfying picture yet of what the band is about. .
The difficult second album is often a fine measure of a band’s mettle. That The Getty Address, the second album proper credited to Dirty Projectors, took the form of an opera about The Eagles’ Don Henley spoke volumes about frontman Dave Longstreth’s penchant for esoterica and high concept. Now, the breakthrough success of 2009’s Bitte Orca has placed Longstreth under the weight of expectation once more, but Swing Lo Magellan sees him taking a different tack entirely.
Dirty Projectors' mastermind David Longstreth has talked up the Brooklyn collective's Swing Lo Magellan as "an album of songs". As a USP, that seems fairly underwhelming. You could say every album on this week's rock and pop release schedule, from technical death metal titans Nile's At The Gates of Sethu to the expanded reissue of Showaddywaddy's 1979 opus Crepes and Drapes, is an album of songs.
Dave Longstreth’s tunes under the Dirty Projectors blanket have always been transcendentally steeped in emotional tenor, but the stunning window dressing seemed to draw more and more of the attention as releases went on. While songs like “Naked We Made It” or “The Glad Fact” (both from 2003’s The Glad Fact) often laid the emotional material bare with simple accompaniment, each successive album seemed to show Longstreth learning new tricks, layering new songwriting theories and artistic concepts over the top. But when dealing with a composer as talented as Longstreth, there was never any room for complaint, especially with results as gasp-inducingly beautiful as 2009’s Bitte Orca or as heady as 2005’s The Getty Address.
These arty Brooklynites charmed the bloggerati with 2009’s Bitte Orca, which grafted their proggier tendencies onto more straightforward song structures. On Swing Lo Magellan, though, the group almost seems to be apologizing for even those mild concessions, doubling down on hookless instrumentation and discordant harmonies. It should be thrillingly anarchic; instead, it just meanders.
The sixth album by Dirty Projectors is the sound of a band sprouting in multiple directions. Although you imagine that Dave Longstreth, the Brooklyn ensemble’s founder and sole constant member, is at pains to surpass and stretch himself with every release, the keyword for ‘Swing Lo Magellan’ has to be “most”. These 12 songs are their most puffed-chest proggy yet; their most exquisitely popwise; and, if not quite dancefloor-friendly, their most obvious nod to dance music.
After the supposed avant-garde accessibility and commercial breakthrough of 2009's Bitte Orca -- an album that saw Solange Knowles cover the R&B-tinged and hook-laden single "Stillness in the Move" -- Swing Lo Magellan is the David Longstreth-led Dirty Projectors' sixth studio album. Proclaiming that this is "an album of songs, an album of songwriting," and despite the absence of long-term collaborator Angel Deradoorian, Longstreth manages to produce his most tender yet anthemic record to date. Spending nearly 12 months recording and writing in an isolated house in the rural solitude of Delaware County, New York, Longstreth forged intimacy and spontaneity, and each track bursts with ideas and warmth, but that's not to suggest that the fidgetiness and crashing rhythms of their previous material are not there.
A timeline of my brief involvement with Dirty Projectors’ new album Swing Lo Magellan: The first time I listened to Swing Lo Magellan, I admittedly shrugged it off. In line as their second attempt at “accessibility” (previous being 2009’s Bitte Orca), it really had little effect on me. Maybe it was the weather, maybe I needed a nap. Who knows.
The Dirty Projectors make weird, complicated music, and for that, you either love them or loathe them. The rhythms move as unpredictably as a handful of bouncy balls chucked at a sidewalk. The guitars lope and noodle sporadically when they’re not flashing out in crunchy bursts. And the singing? It’s like listening to vocal gymnastics, with the voices bending into melodic curlicues and stretching to hold unnatural poses in harmony.
If there’s one constant you can count on with Dirty Projectors, it’s their ability to confound and be inconsistent. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way, far from it; Dave Longstreth just doesn’t do repetition. He also doesn’t talk down to his audience, recently decrying the “deskilled, attitude-based approach” so in vogue among the indie fraternity to be “boring” and “fucking dead”; two adjectives at the opposite end of the spectrum from a virtuoso who’s more modern composer than mere songwriter, and equally happy channelling contemporary classicist György Ligeti as extolling the virtues of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Stupid Hoe’.
One of the many ways to justify our moribund music culture is to resort to a kind of romantic formalism. We might have very few subcultures, protest singers, or countercultural bastions right now, but we do have a huge amount of baroquely decadent music that is formally interesting even if it isn't all that socially meaningful. Indeed, it's hard to envisage that 2010s pop won't leave behind hoards of riches for posterity to ruminate over.
Experimental Brooklynites get right out of town on album six. JJ Dunning 2012 Say what you like about him, but Brooklyn’s Dave Longstreth has never been lacking imagination. In the 10 years since they began, his experimental art-rock troupe Dirty Projectors have written albums that almost need a pointy stick and a flipchart to be fully explained. 2005’s The Getty Address, for example, was a “glitch opera” about the life of the Eagles’ Don Henley, while 2007’s Rise Above was an attempt to cover – from memory – Black Flag’s Damaged, an album Longstreth hadn’t listened to for nearly 15 years.
High art concepts executed with tyrannical precision: 2005's The Getty Address recounts an Aztec vision quest in search of Don Henley; 2007's Rise Above reimagines Black Flag's hardcore classic Damaged; and 2010's Mount Wittenberg Orca weaves eccentricities with Björk. On Swing Lo Magellan, head Projectionist David Longstreth finally loosens his grip on the loose Brooklyn assemblage, trading in complexity for immediacy. Reportedly culled from 40 demos, the resulting 12-track offers a grab bag of progressive British-folk in the title track, plus indie soul ("Dance for You"), warped rock ("Maybe That Was It"), and something resembling a ballad ("Impregnable Question").