Review: Dirty Projectors Turn Heartbreak Into Arty Bliss on Self-Titled LP,
Alongside TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors were a key part of New York’s radical rewiring of rock in the ’00s. The Brooklynites were one of the more experimental bands on that scene, but also one of the most R&B-influenced; their 2009 breakout, Bitte Orca, so impressed Solange that she cut an exquisite cover of its philosophical slow-jam, “Stillness Is the Move.” Suddenly, head Projector Dave Longstreth was
getting work as a pop-song doctor (co-writing the Kanye-Rihanna-Macca summit “FourFive-Seconds”), an arranger (orchestrating Joanna Newsom’s excellent Divers) and producer (the latest from North African guitar god Bombino).
Now, he’s finally back to his main gig, and the result is as dazzling, inventive and soulful as anything he’s done. The DPs’ self-titled seventh LP is filled with freaky cyber-crooning, outrageous beats, startling sample flips and tasty guitar heroics; think 808s & Heartbreak: The Next Generation. To be sure, it’s a breakup record – presumably involving Longstreth’s relationship with ex-Projector Amber Coffman. The sense of separation is palpable. Once defined by talented female singers (Coffman foremost), the band is down to one lonely dude crooning into a digital hall of mirrors. “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast,” Longstreth reflects on “Up in Hudson,” envisioning an ex “out in Echo Park blasting Tupac, drinkin’ a fifth for my ass.”
Longstreth may be lonely, but he isn’t alone, and his collaborators push him to new heights. Veteran engineer Jimmy Douglass, whose résumé includes Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack,” helps craft a masterpiece of post-Auto-Tune vocal processing, and Solange co-writes the island vibe “Cool Your Heart.”
What emerges may be the funniest romantic train wreck since the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. On “Keep Your Name,” Longstreth warbles like a chipmunk-soul Eeyore, then delivers a rap that name-checks Naomi Klein and “Kiss’ shithead Gene Simmons.” On “Death Spiral,” the metaphor is manifested via the score from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. On “Up in Hudson,” a sample of Peggy Seeger’s folk-song reading of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” gets pitched up into cartoon territory.
Remarkably, the humor and the heartbreak coexist beautifully. On the finale, “I See You,” Longstreth drops the vocal masking and sings against a “Whiter Shade of Pale”-ish organ and Beatlesque backward-guitar smears, declaring, “The love we made is the art.” It’s sweet enough to make an ex reconsider – and a fan could hope Longstreth suffers more heartache, if it results in music this good.
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