Dirty Projectors ‘Swing Lo Magellan’ – Review

30 Aug

For as long as I can remember Dirty Projectors have been the archetypal band it’s hard to love and equally hard not to admire. ‘Bitte Orca’ was undeniably brilliant in the same way your friend’s Nuclear Science dissertation is undeniably brilliant – quite the achievement but that doesn’t mean you’d particularly want to spend much time with it. Albums like that always make end of year lists a tricky proposition; ‘Bitte Orca’ was more complex, Innovative and strange than any album released that year not called ‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’, and yet I only played it on a handful of occasions, and every time I did made me feel slightly too pleased with myself for comfort.

Yep, Dirty Projectors have been always been smart but often a little too smart for their own good. I’ve always been opposed to what I call ‘head music, i.e music that appeals to the head over the heart, music that makes you think rather than feel. Dirty Projectors have always straddled the line between the two a bit too much for my liking, but on ‘Swing Lo Magelellan’ they have pushed themselves into more accessible, emotionally gratifying, but no less complex territory. All of which makes this easily their most satisfying album to date.

The biggest difference between this and previous records, it seems to me, is that they’ve opened the curtains on their lyrics, hooks and melodies. They are no longer (completely) hidden amidst difficult song structures, shuffling rhythms and obtuse wordplay. The structures are still relatively unusual but they no longer get in the way. The lyrics are still occasionally difficult to grasp but the meanings are easier to find. Dirty projectors are still far from a direct pop group but they have found their most satisfying balance yet on this album.

Talking about ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ earlier this year, songwriter David Longstreth said “that song gets at something that I’ve been trying to do for a while as a songwriter, which is to take it to the most basic core of whatever the song’s about, and not really dress it up with lots of unnecessary ornamentation.” He is absolutely right; the melody is natural and easy whilst the lyrics are simple and meaningful. The instrumentation compliments both wonderfully (that bass line is intense). There is this kind of equilibrium across the album. ‘Dance For You’, ‘The Socialites’ and ‘About To Die’ make it to the top of my list of favourites because they are instantly likeable but also have something darker and more revealing under the surface.

‘How could I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?’ If you don’t know what Longstreth is on about there, he qualifies this line with ‘Where would I ever be without you?’. This song sort of sums up what is essentially a love album. Dirty Projectors are sill difficult and evasive at times, but everyone can grasp what they mean when they sing ‘I need you and you’re always on my mind.’ There is universal appeal here but no dumbing down whatsoever. The unusual mix, the occasionally strange arrangements, the eccentric choice of wording – these things help to make this one of the most rewarding albums of the year.


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