Dirty Projectors trade knots for new on latest LP

July 06, 2012 10:14 PM

It's strange to see the word "accessible" appear again and again in interviews with the notoriously abstract Dirty Projectors. To a degree, it can be hard to hear this accessibility at all on the band's latest full-length, Swing Lo Magellan. The second track, "About to Die," opens with an ear-popping beat of what sounds like a warehouse of drums tuning and detuning themselves, followed by a trademark off-kilter chord sequence from principal songwriter David Longstreth. Another track, "Maybe That Was It," sounds like a Neil Young song imploded, with the drums barely holding the chaos together over the course of four minutes.  Even "Just from Chevron," the first of two songs on the album to feature a lead vocal from the more-vocally-pleasing Amber Coffman, is sliced in half by a virtuosic guitar line after just a minute, before Longstreth takes over lead vocals, pushing his voice to its limit at the end of phrases as he's often done in albums past.

However, a closer listen to the album accurately reveals the origins of the band's claims. The stark simplicity of first single "Gun Has No Trigger" goes a long way, and the band's appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week highlights this newfound simplicity in the band's lineup: just bass, drums, a synth pad, and four voices. There are no knotty guitar breakdowns a la' Bitte Orca (the band's 2009 breakthrough album), and even the wild harmonies of the group's past are expertly restrained, instead laying the foundation for a powerful lead vocal. "Impregnable Question," another guitar-less track, stoically plods along, devoid of any overbearing instrumentation. Sincerity is the point here, and as the band has stated in interviews, the influence of Bob Dylan (particularly the low-key vibe of 1967's John Wesley Harding) is in every note of the title track (their cover of "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine was perfect practice). "The Socialites," Coffman's other lead vocal turn on the album, perfectly marries the band's previous sonic exploration with a conclusion in the form of the question, "Who knows what my spirit is worth in cold hard cash?"

Swing Lo Magellan is a step forward in every way for the Dirty Projectors, as they've slightly pared back their presentation to create a potent distillation of their sound. Though the album begins with their thrilling disregard for musical convention, accessibility actually does rear its head by the final track. "Irresponsible Tune," a low-key reverb driven affair, sees Longstreth questioning the routine of writing songs in an atmosphere alongside the "vile winds" of the world, until he finally hears the "irresponsible tune" of a bird singing at his window. Hopefully he doesn't stop anytime soon.

By Gary Canino

 

Watch the Gun Has No Trigger video. 

Swing Lo Magellan is available in the US July 10th via Domino Records.

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