Dirty Projectors’ new album Swing Lo Magellan is, in many ways, worlds apart from their previous output, and will surely both divide the band’s existing fanbase and warm the hearts of those who have previously dismissed the band. Lead Projector Dave Longstreth has always dictatorially steered the band in many surprising directions, most of which are towards experimentalism, esoterica, and general oddness. However one of the most surprising directions the band have pursued is the warm, poppy sound of their new album. Whereas their last full length album Bitte Orca was, like many of their albums, cold and calculated; a lofty, ambitious attempt to grasp at a higher plane than most indie rock bands ever could. In the past their admittedly brilliant music has so often been about overarching concept and ideas, which makes for a fascinating listen, but is difficult to genuinely love; personally, as someone who appreciates emotion and sincerity in music, Longstreth’s ambition has often acted as a barrier, preventing me from really loving the band in the way I love many of their peers (bands like Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective).
Swing Lo Magellan’s real triumph is it’s directness; the sound, tone and emotion of the record is warm, emotive, and memorable. Whereas once their albums featured inspired moments of real pop music buried like diamonds in the rough amongst the sonic experiments and highbrow artistic intentions, here they are evenly spread, which makes for a far more engaging listen. Now Longstreth is really a force to be reckoned with; his ambitious genre-smudging and eclectic inclinations are attached to heart and soul, giving his music a more profound meaning.
The opening ‘Offspring Are Blank’ begins as a straight up R’nB slow jam (albeit a fucked up, Dirty Projectors version) before blossoming into a chorus of noise-rock Beach Boys racket. The ensuing collection of songs are, as is often the case with this band, all over the place in terms of sound and influences; Longsreth’s palette is a mish-mash of genres, time periods and styles. Few albums can claim the R’nB experimentalism of Beyonce and early Timbaland productions, the warm guitar playing of African Soukou music, and the high-art intentions of David Byrne and the Talking Heads as genuine influences, and this albums wears those influences well. This is music I have always wanted to hear, but never found; the stuttering beats and choppy, subtle basslines are straight out of the weirdest and wildest parts of mainstream Hip-Hop and R’nB, the vocal harmonies are glorious, irresistible and breathtakingly pretty, and the lyrics are smart, well thought out, and expressive.
The title track combines sunny acoustic fingerpicking, steady clattering drums and surreal lyrics. ‘Dance For You’ is undeniably catchy, complete with handclaps. The stunning piano-led ‘Impregnable Question’ sounds like some forgotten Arthur Russell gem. Sure, the album lacks one big breakout summer jam (which Bitte Orca had in the peerless Bizarre’nB of ‘Stillness Is The Move’) In short, it’s an album of beautiful songs, whose only connection is the skill, time and care invested in them.
What really becomes apparent as the album unfolds and blooms is that Longstreth has not abandoned the experimental chops of his earlier work in favour of simplicity and pop music, he has done what all truly great musicians do; married his artistry and ambition to pop music, and made an album that I know I personally will play to death. Basically – good luck finding a better album this year.
Released 9th July 2012 by Domino Recording Company