Dynamic? Random? Solipsistic? Schizophrenic? All of those words can be applied to the albums in the Dirty Projectors’ oeuvre, but the adjective that comes to mind when listening to their latest effort is different. While Bitte Orca still retains the essential elements that have made Dirty Projectors one of the most distinctive bands touring today, their seventh album is perhaps best described as ... restrained.
That, of course, is entirely relative: No fan of modern country music or radio-friendly “adult alternative” would listen past the first song without getting frustrated at the vocals, which seem to wander about the song nonsensically, or at the time shifts, which mess with the audience’s expectations. Careful listeners, though, will be rewarded with one of the more exciting, albeit challenging, albums of the year.
Dave Longstreth, the Yale dropout/musical mastermind behind Dirty Projectors, claims that the music in this album has a certain colorful feel to it, and that the songs can be related to the ways colors interact.
That description is particularly useful for trying to interpret the album; at times, the lyrics and melodies flow together so well that you stop trying to make sense of them. A certain mellifluous and melodious aura pervades the album, and the songs relate together in a sonic, not necessarily lyrical, way. Thus, Bitte Orca has given itself permission to be nonsensical. The very title of the album is, as Longstreth admits, decidedly nonliteral in meaning - he just liked the way the words sounded together.
The orchestration is layered and polyphonic (just as you’d expect from a man who nearly graduated with a degree in classical composition). However, unlike many of its compatriots, Dirty Projectors considers the human voice to be another instrument, going beyond its mere lyrical capacity. That innovative approach leads to some of the best moments on the album, as in the groove-ridden “Stillness is the Move” or interjection-laden “Cannibal Resource”.
Although this album is more restrained than previous works (no blasts of random audio scuzz here!), it is still, quintessentially, a sonic experiment. In the case of Mr. Longstreth and the Projectors, though, it is the most accessible experiment to date.
Blood on the Wall
(Social Registry; 2005)
If Blood on the Wall’s sophomore album were merely awesome, they would have told you up front. They would have put it right on the spine — they’re straightforward people. Instead, it’s a more than just awesome barrage of the catchiest late 80s-era garage/alternative this side of the Pixies’ Doolittle. They’re just being honest.
You’re understandably skeptical. Since the heyday of G.I. Joe and Barbie people have been trying to force-feed you things they claimed were awesome, much to your disappointment when you discovered they don’t actually fight or accessorize on their own.
So, what makes this album so awesome? Well, remember when your mom told you in the 6th grade that cool kids don’t worry about seeming cool? Blood on the Wall is those cool kids. In Awesomer they’re playing the music they love because they love it and know you’ll love it too — not that they’re trying to impress you or anything.
To say that they’re a little late to the 80s rock game would be perfectly fair, but who the hell cares? They obviously don’t, and look how cool they are. “Mary Susan” is essentially a Pixies song, and Courtney Shanks’ deadpan is one of the sexiest things in modern rock. It’s refreshing to come back to the basics once in a while, which no one in this decade has done more masterfully than this band has. From the instant winner “Stoner Jam” to the final track and only slow song “Going to Heaven,” Awesomer never relents — its 31 minutes should be played at maximum volume for full effect.
But any band can be loud and intense. What makes this album great is that it never stagnates. For a three-person band with bass, drums, and guitar, they cover an incredible amount of ground in a short time without losing the listener. It’s exciting on first listen but diverse enough to stay rewarding at lengths that would easily have crushed an album less awesome.