Woah, woah. Hang on. Hold up! Dirty Projectors is a bit male for Wears the Trousers, right? Well, it’s true that the band is the brainchild of Dave Longstreth. For a long time he ran the band as a revolving door of contributors, spitting out idiosyncratic albums that were invariably declared as the work of a genius, but lacking in popular appeal. This changed during the tour for 2005′s The Getty Address, with Longstreth settling into a permanent line-up that featured Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. With Haley Dekle now also in the line-up, this makes the band majority female and eligible for review in Wears the Trousers. Lucky us!
The truth is that with this line-up the Projectors have gone from strength to strength. 2007′s Rise Above was recognised by many critics as the band’s most accessible effort to date and they are hotly tipped in 2009, having already collaborated with David Byrne for the Dark Was The Night HIV/AIDS benefit compilation and appearing with her royal majesty, Björk, in New York to perform a special suite of songs that Longstreth wrote for the Icelandic diva at her request. To say that Bitte Orca is hotly anticipated would be an understatement.
Fortunately, it’s a bit of a masterpiece. The synergy between Longstreth, Coffman and Deradoorian is, at times, breathtaking. Longstreth seems to think so too as the cover obliquely references this new joint effort (Coffman and Deradoorian appear in poses that reference the cover for his most individual effort to date, Slave’s Graves & Ballads). Essentially, what you have in Bitte Orca is a beautiful balance between Longstreth’s cubist, sometimes wilfully abstract compositions and Coffman and Deradoorian’s more traditional handling of melody and harmony. Together they are producing music that is not only beautiful (where Longstreth’s own sometimes has not been) but new and with a feeling of freshness.
This energy is kept up from the opening of the album – long previewed track ‘Cannibal Resource’ – through to its close, ‘Fluorescent Half Dome’. It’s tough to pick highlights in a record so good and, admittedly, so challenging. The listener’s natural inclination is to talk about the moments of sublime beauty within the songs themselves, thus getting caught up in loops trying to describe the indescribable. There is, for instance, the moment in ‘Temecula Sunrise’ when the whole song breaks down into shambles and Longstreth starts howling about inviting someone to live in his basement that seems, well, somehow just perfect. Or there is mid-album set-piece ‘Useful Chamber’ in which Coffman and Deradoorian suddenly just open their throats after a quiet hum and wail. The hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you get shivers. The effect is even more powerful live, if the recent gig at The Scala is anything to go by. There were moments when a normally jaded London crowd literally roared in animal approval mid-song.
If it were possible to narrow what makes Dirty Projectors so exciting at the moment it would be the fact that they are delivering something new and shocking. There’s nothing cliché about them, no tired moments lazily dressed up as ‘post-modernism’. Even where they rework genres, as in the R&B-esque first single ‘Stillness Is The Move’, they turn it so thoroughly inside out that it sounds like the future rushing in rather than a novelty. This also means that the album won’t be universally well-received. The more conservative critics have already been mumbling their tired old litany of ‘no tunes’. But, really, bollocks to them. Dirty Projectors are art pioneers. Bitte Orca might not make anyone’s album of the year (even though it should), but here’s hoping it gets heralded as a classic in years to come.
[Domino; June 8, 2009]