You may have zeroed in on the Dirty Projectors before, having heard them name-checked by other bands (admirers include David Byrne and Bjork with resulting collaborations). Or you’ve heard of their influence – they were using West African drum beats before Vampire Weekend turned them into a signature sound. But if you listened to the album Rise Above you’d have found them covering Black Flag songs (from memory no less) and The Getty Address is a sort of opera inspired by Don Henley. Not necessarily easy listening then.
It would be a massive mistake to file the Dirty Projectors under the ‘Interesting but Quirky’ section of your record collection to gather dust – especially since the arrival of their last (6th) album Swing Lo Magellan. This time around David Longstreth (lead singer-songwriter/creator), has toned down his heady experimentalism in favour of a simplicity of sorts – favouring hooks, beats and melodies instead of concepts. And it’s a revelation.
Clearly Longstreth likes to shapeshift and in Gun Has No Trigger, the first single from the album, he’s in lo-fi Guided By Voices mode singing less obvious, slightly discordant notes against dark-angel vocals from Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle which build to crescendo to support the plaintive cries of the chorus. Elsewhere, Offspring are Blank holds glimpses of TV On The Radio, beginning with close harmony humming, handclapping and the odd sci-fi sounding squelch (that’s a good thing) with massive guitars bringing a rush of blood to the head. It’s one helluva opener. Polymorphic tendencies continue with Swing Lo Magellan moving into quiet Velvet Underground territory and Just from Chevron changes pace again with a background of West Africa – all rolling guitar licks, handclaps and off-kilter drums cushioned by close harmonies and Longstreth’s raucous cries. Assimilating this rack of influences and then layering them sounds like Pick ‘n’ Mix for the ears but somehow it really works and frankly, it’s as cool as milk.
If there’s one thing the tracks on this album do have in common (aside from Longstreth’s raison d’être: innovation) it’s that he likes to build sections of each song to a point of no return then pull back the curtains to show the workings of the machine, returning to a simple drumbeat or handclap. There are moments that seem Zappaesque, with band members questioning what they’re doing ‘er… that doesn’t make any sense what you just said’ and ‘when should we bust into harmonies?’(Unto Caesar). Rather than making a joke, he’s celebrating the looseness of the recording process, distancing the band from the high-gloss veneer of the pop world. It’s post-post-modern and you can see why the Talking Heads front-man is such a fan.
This DIY aesthetic originated in the recording process, namely a house in Delaware (4 hours northwest of NYC) over the space of a year. Longstreth selected the final tracks from over seventy new songs and beats after rehearsing with other band members – Nat Baldwin (Bass), Brian McOmber (Drums) and the aforementioned Coffman and Dekle (vocals) in the A-frame attic.
Evidently when David Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors go back to basics, reigning in what is clearly a massive knowledge and skillset, we get something that is much more accessible. They are a hole that can’t be pigeoned, which is never a bad thing, but Swing Lo Magellan might be the key to unlocking their back catalogue too.
Review by: Selina Ream
David Longstreth has written and directed a short film, HI CUSTODIAN featuring music from Swing Lo Magellan and is slated for a summer release. The film stars members of the band and was shot over the course of five days in late April 2012 in several locations in Southern California. Watch the trailer below:
UK and European Tour Dates
14/10 Manchester Gorilla, Manchester, UK
15/10 Central Methodist Hall, Manchester, UK
17/10 Roundhouse, London, UK
18/10 La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris, France
23/10 Melkweg Oude Zaal, Amsterdam, Netherlands
24/10 Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg, Germany
27/10 Pustervik, Gothenburg, Sweden
28/10 Rockefeller, Oslo, Norway
30/10 Debaser Medis, Stockholm, Sweden
31/10 Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavík, Iceland
Swing Lo Magellan is released on Domino Records 9th July 2012. Buy it here