My favorite Dirty Projectors line is about Gatorade. Tucked into the opening sequence of 2010’s Bitte Orca, frontman David Longstreth takes a moment to appreciate the finer things, asking “and what hits the spot, yeah, like Gatorade?” Bending his voice on the proper noun and crooning every syllable, the line was specific and alarming, an unexpected yet logical way of making it to, “you and me baby, hittin' the spot all night.”
Delivered at a time in indie rock where wishy washy ruled, Longstreth’s sports drink seduction dumped a cooler on top of a scene that allowed vague rumination on the woods and the muted anguish of college educated white dudes to become the established norm for lyrical expression. Sure Longsreth went to Yale and the Projectors were about as L train Brooklyn as they come, but when they weren’t wearing red sweaters and inexplicably walking with llamas in the woods, the band was pairing sublime vocal arraignments and complex compositions with the confident specificity of a lyric about Gatorade.
A lot has changed in the seven years since Bitte Orca. As many of the band’s peers have gone the way of the Avi Buffalo, Longstreth put out the ebullient pop-leaning Swing Lo Magellen, watched bandmate and long time girlfriend Amber Coffman become some sort of an EDM star for her vocals on Major Lazer’s Get Free, and wrote for pop stars himself like Kanye, Solange, and Beyonce. Then they broke up. Dirty Projectors, the new record from the now solo Longstreth released under the name of the band the couple formally lived together for, is about that break up.
Dirty Projectors finds Longstreth joining a rich history of rock frontmen who “fired the band and hired the machine” from McCartney II to Sufjan’s bezerk Age of Adz and Bon Iver’s techno implosion last year. There is autotune (lots of it) and even a little rapping. Bass lines are delivered chunky and blown out, some even sound like Yeezus. There’s more proper noun usage with mentions of Kanye, Tupac, Naomi Klein, Marshall tubes, and the band’s former Coffman led hit Stillness In the Move. Gone are the tight, jaw dropping harmonies of Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, replaced by a chorus of robotic Daves (and they are pissed). Utilizing vocal effects and broad exaggerated voices, the album’s first single, Keep Your Name plays like a schizophrenic argument in the dejected singer’s head. “I don’t think I ever loved you” is quickly met by “that was some stupid shit.”
When it works, Dirty Projectors is a dizzying experience, a unique and modern piece with a wild prodigal confidence that ensures fulfillment. Keep Your Name, Up In Hudson, and Little Bubble all manage to deliver complex experimental productions, intimate storytelling, and confrontationally honest lyrics. There’s countless harsh moments on this record where Longstreth works out his break up with spiteful anger and direct insults but there’s a vulnerability in his ugly behaviour and it's delivered beautifully in this record.
Longstreth’s competency with his newly adopted electronic production style is surprisingly proficient and versatile for the most part. Still the overall tone of the band’s new sound seems to stand at odds with the radical honesty of the album’s lyrics. At times, it seems like Dave is hiding himself behind the Timbaland reminiscent beats (Death Spiral) or just fucking around with a squeaky breakdown (Ascent Through Clouds). Cool Your Heart, the tight KISS FM dancehall collaboration with Dawn Richards, is sweet but I don’t particularly buy the optimistic conclusion that follows with I See You because it doesn’t seem like Dave particularly believes his own words. I like to imagine the album ending on Little Bubble instead, bright and vulnerable in its sweet recollections of the past and what was lost while still making time for “I want to be dead.”
Words: Nick Boyd