Hot New Music: Dirty Projectors – Swing Low Magellan – Album Review

Ambition.

It’s what killed Caesar.  Some have even called it ugly. However, rock music’s very best bands have always had it in spades. Face it, some acts come and go and are very happy to make easy-to-like music. There’s nothing wrong with that, dare I say — we need it? Music listeners can’t always be listening to groundbreaking music. Sometimes you just want to hear something you know. But there has also been historical precedence for new bands with big ambitions slowly morphing into the creative forces that not only satisfy, they uplift. From the Beatles to the Who, to newer heroes like Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens, there have been acts who want to do more. They push boundaries — change and grow — and bring their audiences along with them. When done correctly, it can be very exciting.

One of these bands is the Dirty Projectors. They have quite a back-story. I’ve prepared a quick outline.

What You Need to Know About the Dirty Projectors. 

  1.  Led (he sort of co-fronts the band) by a music-degreed writer/arranger/guitarist and singer David Longstreth.
  2. The sound of the band has shifted over time but the safest way to talk about them is … uhhh … proggy, afrobeat-influenced, soul indie with some classical music influences. What does that mean, you ask? The instruments tend to be notey or tricky, the rhythms roll — much like 70s African jazz with somewhat catchy songs but with very complicated vocal harmonies.
  3. They are a bit mysterious, barely commenting on their own music and even performing in a shy, almost studious manner.
  4. They’ve had multiple lead singers. The complicated lines all require excellent singers and Longstreth has surrounded himself with them, often fearing Amber Coffman (owner of some o the greatest hair in indie). Superiorly, this widens the palette of what these guys can do.
  5. They covered the Black Flag album Damaged in its entirety — sort of.
  6. Often handclaps play a big part of their rhythm section and somehow it’s not cloying or silly.
  7. Beyoncé’s little sister has covered one of their songs.
  8. Longstreth is one of the first indie guys who can really play guitar in a new way — mixing a jazzy, clean, stabbing style with real African Juju playing.  Dude’s too-legit-to-quit.
  9. Each of their records has been different than the last. Sometimes becoming more challenging, sometimes adding an element to the band that never existed before.

Which bring us to Swing Low Magellan, Dirty Projector’s newest release: and this one is a MONSTER. Longstreth and company have simplified slightly and the brand-sharpening is a winning move. With songs lightly shortened and holding more focus, there is also a bit more emphasis on Longstreth as a vocalist. Not to mention, catchy choruses are just some of the reasons why music listeners who formerly befuddled by what these guys did may want to jump on the bandwagon (right now).

As far as the tunes are concerned, the first single “Gun Has No Trigger” is a slow but insistent burner, each verse building until the final chord of each chorus is a masterful tension-filled chord of just vocals. Album opener “Offspring are Blank,” is essentially a complicated power ballad with a secret weapon. The secret weapon is, that every time the chorus comes along it has an entirely different instrumental accompaniment than the last time: it’s stunningly creative. The tracks “Dance For You” and “Impregnable Question” are two of the uncheesiest and concise love songs I’ve ever been not-embarrassed-to-like.

An extra special mention goes to the title-track. It’s a simple strummed pop ditty with an extremely retrained drums and bass. Beautiful and simple in a way I’ve never heard any other Dirty Projectors song.  Truly, the arrangements are so inventive with instruments cleverly appearing where you don’t expect them — complicated but beautiful backups are sprinkled in everywhere across this gem.

I can’t say enough about this record. These guys have sanded down their rough edges and have delivered a record that both the casual and obsessive music fan can enjoy equally.

Words: Stephe Sykes

Artist: Dirty Projectors
Album: Swing Low Magellan
Label: Domino
Release Date: July 17, 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.