Review : Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
GuardianDirty 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
But the comment makes more sense in context of the Dirty Projectors' back catalogue and the polarised response it's received. To their fans, some famous (Bjork and David Byrne are past collaborators), Longstreth is a polymath genius, flitting between 20th-century orchestration, medieval vocal polyphony and what Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig – a former Dirty Projector himself – admiringly called "a fucked-up version of American music". He is so brimming with original ideas, so superior to his peers, that he bears comparison to the late Frank Zappa.
Then there are people for whom that comparison is the problem in a nutshell: like Zappa, he deals in smug, arid intellectual exercises, albums that are – to borrow a phrase from the former culture minister Kim Howells – cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit. It's an intriguing schism, summed up in the fact that people who love Longstreth have an unerring knack of describing his albums in a manner apparently designed to instill in anyone who hasn't heard them a burning desire never to do so as long as they live: "So good at what they do they can be hard to like", "the execution is as important as the music itself" and, indeed, "the listener can picture a West that has been smithereened into archipelagodom, where the human survivors place their faith in po-mo calypso's power to impress the warlord carnival judges".
Listening to this sixth album, you do wonder if Longstreth might have noted some of the dissenting voices and conceded they have a point. Certainly, there's a huge emotional gulf between, say, 2007's Rise Above – on which Longstreth "reimagined" the music of hardcore punks Black Flag and drained every last drop of feeling from it in the process – and this album's Impregnable Question or See What She Seeing, both plaintive love songs, the former boasting a lovely McCartney-esque melody....full text
ThelineofbestfitThe durable misconception that having too much brains is bad news for rock music, that boneheaded swagger and rigid adherence to three-chord fundamentalism is somehow more substantial and real than a healthy curiosity in the new and the uncharted, has found some grounding in the past output of Dirty Projectors.
Equally adept at abstract orchestrations and pummelling riffs, band leader David Longstreth’s early endeavours carried a frustrating whiff of a superbly gifted musician hiding his talents underneath impenetrably thick layers of grand concepts and bloodless explorations of the esoteric, doomed to be applauded only by devotees of chin-stroking abstraction.
As such, Longstreth’s announcement that Swing Lo Magellan has been constructed as something as conventional as an album of songs comes as a bit of a surprise, if not an entirely unexpected one. The Brooklyn-based band’s sixth album completes a shift towards a more song-orientated direction unveiled on 2009′s Bitte Orca, a justifiably praised blend of dense harmonies and Led Zep-flavoured axe worship, and continued on last year’s underappreciated EP Mount Wittenberg Orca, a celebration of the expressive potential of human voices recorded in collaboration with Björk to raise funds for marine research.
Culled from seventy tracks recorded over a period of 12 months, many of which somehow manage to cram in all of Longstreth’s various musical passions, Swing Lo Magellan is simple and straightforward only in comparison with the band’s past works. Opener ‘Offspring Are Blank”s trek from wonky harmonies and threadbare beats to an arena-sized chorus and back goes to great lengths to avoid conventional moves. Both the languid anguish – yes, really – of ‘About to Die’ and first single ‘Gun Has No Trigger”s arresting blending of a jubilant beat with the lyrics’ impotent fury initially sound like the band and the richly arranged vocals of Longstreth, Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle are pulling in opposite directions. But it all gradually blooms into a remarkably infectious album that’s clearly been painstakingly arranged yet comes across as appealingly raw and immediate nonetheless.
The totally unexpected straight-from-the-heart directness and uncluttered loveliness of the stargazing title track and the devotional soul-pop gem ‘Impregnable Question’, meanwhile, could be this (in)famously complicated band’s most radical move yet, instantly rubbishing claims that there’s little human warmth to be found beneath their relentless boundary-pushing. Practically oozing blissful melodies, ‘Dance for You”s superlative blast of West Africa-hued odd-pop built on skittish beats and manic handclaps is even better: the moment the unexpected blast of swooning strings gives way to a thrillingly rudimentary guitar solo is worth the price of admission alone. Next to this, the more self-consciously experimental moments – the deliberately detuned drag that disfigures the sky-bound melody of ‘Maybe That Was It’, the studio chatter that’s allowed to float to the surface during ‘Unto Caesar’ – seem disappointingly contrived....full text
BbcSay 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.
Though Swing Lo Magellan’s themes are less overt, the story of Dirty Projectors’ sixth album is still irregular and intriguing. Tired of the “density” of Brooklyn, Longstreth relocated his band – minus the “on hiatus” bassist/vocalist Angel Deradoorian – to a long-abandoned house in upstate Delaware County.
The result is an album that is far less-crowded than previous works (in his own words, Longstreth’s aim here is to veer away from the “florid arrangements” of 2009’s Bitte Orca) and one that, on the whole, feels suitably bucolic.
For instance, the title track, with its gentle acoustic guitar and butterfly melody, may be the most straightforward folk song the band has ever written. Longstreth himself appears more relaxed; single Gun Has No Trigger retains his penchant for complex melody, but without going off at an agitated and inaccessible tangent.
This time around, with Deradoorian absent, it’s up to the harmonies of Amber Coffman to enhance Longstreth’s extraordinary voice. She makes particular impact on the piano-led Impregnable Question as a foil to an uncharacteristically vulnerable frontman – the line “I need you, and you are always on my mind” suggests he’s found some quiet contemplation in the countryside. She takes the mic herself for The Socialites: a sunny, out-of-town perspective on the social snobbery of the city they’ve left behind....full text
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