Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
- By Nik Jeffries -
- Jul 03, 2012
There would be a very valid argument to have to suggest that Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective are arguably the two most important and restlessly innovative bands of the last decade… and not just the ‘most important New York bands’, even though both do hail from the city.
David Longstreth, ostensibly the brains behind Dirty Projectors, has proved himself to be nothing short of a polymath and in the process picked up celebrity fans come musical contributors in the shape of David Byrne and Bjork. In fact it would be quite easy to draw parallels to Dirty Projectors and Byrne’s Talking Heads in their shared incorporation of world music rhythms and intricate melodic structures. Dirty Projectors have never been shy of their own uncompromising complexity wearing it instead as badge of honour; as if they’re the self-appointed indie intelligentsia.
Previous Dirty Projectors albums have often felt like purposeful projects, ‘The Getty Address’ made a pointed effort to deconstruct contemporary avant-garde orchestration whilst ‘Rise Above’ re-imagined the Black Flag album ‘Damaged’ in a typically idiosyncratic manner. Whilst ‘Bitte Orca’ felt like something of a creative fulfillment the Bjork collaboration ‘Mount Wittenberg’ was an emotive exercise in vocal polyphonic experimentation.
‘Swing Lo Magellan’ has been touted by Longstreth as being “an album of songs, an album of songwriting”, which despite coming across as a particularly redundant statement does go some distance in helping establish that the onus here is on the songs themselves rather than making a trenchant grandiose statement. Opening gambit ‘Offspring Are Blank’ begins with archetypal Dirty Projectors vocal harmonizing over a syncopated R&B bass beat before exploding intermittently in a cacophony of garage guitars with unapologetic solos – a distinct irony given the lyrics promise “a silence that can swallow sound”. ‘About to Die’ features a beautifully wonky treated percussion that gives way to an off kilter orchestral interlude. The infectiously catchy lead single ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ bounces over a tightly locked drum beat, giving Longstreth’s ever creative harmonies space to soar with assistance from backing vocalists Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle.
The titular ‘Swing Lo Magellan’ throws a relative curveball, in that it’s a straight-ahead and threadbare acoustic track whilst ‘Just From Chevron’ is replete with knotty African inspired guitar lines. Piano ballad ‘Impregnable Question’ features one of Longsteth’s most candid and honest vocals, stripped of pretense he coos “you’re my love and I want you in my life”. It’s the sort of potentially saccharine lyric he’d probably have been embarrassed by previously, but he strikes it such that it feels utterly sincere. ‘See What You’re Seeing’ is equally evocative as it ebbs with warped guitar chords, sweeping strings and rickety, shuffling rhythm patterns.
‘The Socialites’, is a sardonic paean to celebrity culture. Hayley Dekle takes lead vocals singing such tongue in cheek lines as “I think she’s the prettiest lady I’ve ever seen, her hair has meaning and volume and such a sheen”. The track has a regressing and slightly mawkish guitar refrain counterpointed by sliding tonal shifts and a staccato drum pattern. Album closer and Grizzly Bear esque ‘Irresponsible Tune’ sees Longstreth multi-track his vocal over a simple acoustic song as he verbally deconstructs the recording process and asking “Will there be peace in the world or will violence always own the truth?” Sonically it sounds like a solo barbershop rendition recorded in a desolate wood cabin. Lyrically it’s a mischievously abstract close to the album.
Always avoiding categorization. Often paradoxical, conceptual and overly thought out. Dirty Projectors have a strong reputation for fearlessly subverting expectations. ‘Swing Lo Magellan’, although no less inventive, is by far their most coherent album and easily their finest to date.
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