ALBUM REVIEW: Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Released July 10, 2012 on Domino Records
Art-pop mavens Dirty Projectors are back in the fray with their first release in three years, Swing Lo Magellan. The Projectors make a name for themselves by taking an inaccessible genre and making it accessible, and this album happens to be their most accessible work yet. Front to back it has the feel of summer, and of time spent with close friends and maybe a lover. Is it a coincidence that the least esoteric Projectors record also features the most romantic lyrical sentiments out of the band’s oeuvre? On ‘See What She’s Seeing’, band leader David Longstreth laments the old feeling of being alone in a crowded room, and of being surrounded by women he desires but never finding true companionship. “I need someone to comfort me,” he sings; “I can see what she’s seeing / everywhere I go I see her.” In ‘Dance For You’, Longstreth admits his lack of direction but promises “There is an answer / I haven’t found it / but I will keep dancing ‘til I do / Dance for you, dance for you.” Perhaps most obviously, in ‘Impregnable Question’, a song that could almost have been a sunny 60’s pop number, Longstreth pleads “I need you / And you’re always on my mind.”
So in terms of lyrical content, this album is more uplifting than other DP records, right? Same thing goes for the music behind those lyrics. Almost every song features shimmering afro-pop guitars express-shipped from Graceland. Slide guitar and conga drums abound as well. ‘Just From Chevron’ liken them to the melodies from fellow glitter guitar dabblers Real Estate, and the entire album opens with spiritual humming and handclapping, as if DP are about to start a raucous indie church sermon. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’ve lost their edge. There are still plenty of weirdo time signatures that would make Rush scratch their heads (and some hip hop beats =for good measure). Lead single ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ is ironically a loaded gun of an anthem, the band building the energy almost enough to lose control. In it Longstreth laments our inability to see what is right in front of us, causing us to hurtle towards self-destruction. So don’t worry: Longstreth still delights in creating veiled metaphors that allow him to make sweeping societal observations. Then again, the band understands they might not always be understood, and they have fun with that; check out the half-sung-half-spoken ‘Unto Caesar’ wherein one backing vocalist announces, “That doesn’t make any sense, what you just said.” Now maybe there’s a deeper meaning here, but can you get more tongue-in-cheek than that?
Overall the album has more clarity, more purpose than other Projectors projects have, despite (or maybe because of) numerous lineup changes since Bitte Orca. If one were to boil down the Dirty Projectors formula, it might come out as two parts Warhol-in-the-year-3000 and one part 40’s vocal femme pop group stylings. But no matter what they throw our way, no one else sounds like them. As Longstreth croons in closing track ‘Irresponsible Tune’, “Without songs we are lost / Life is pointless, harsh, and long.” So thank goodness for Dirty Projectors.
Performing live at 9:30 Club on August 17th & 18th