out June 9th
Notes on Dirty Projectors’ sixth full length album, Bitte Orca, spill out as if dumped from a bucket; they fall one after the other, at a near but not constant rate - avoiding predictability is a mission here.And yet, amongst flexible time signatures and unpredictable rhythms, each note seems perfectly placed.If the stories about Dave Longstreth’s obsessive work ethic are even half true, you can bet on the notes being right where he wants them to be.
Longstreth, the heart and soul of the Dirty Projectors, has the pedigree of an art rocker.He dropped out of Yale Composition school and started releasing music under the Dirty Projectors moniker.It’s oddball music – a glitch opera based on Eagles’ Don Henley here, a reinterpretation of Black Flag’s Damaged there – but it’s brilliant.It’s the kind of complex music that reveals as much on the tenth listen as the first.The kind that you play for your friends with the pretentious disclaimer, “you’re probably not going to like this”.
But not this time.Because here, in this topsy-turvy world of 2009, indie has apparently taken a few hits of pop and is ready to make a run at mainstream.Bitte Orca is poppy, the Dirty Projectors at their most accessible, and downright spectacular.
Let’s not get crazy, though, because this album is tricky.It’s decidedly not mainstream, despite the fact that everything you read about the album will invoke that dirty word.In reality, Bitte Orca doesn’t change many of the divisive elements of previous releases.None of the vocal outbursts, scaling cascades, or odd flourishes that mark the Dirty Projectors’ oeuvre are missing here.Dave Longstreth’s voice is still weird.Source material is still bizarre.
The tweaks are slight, making them even more effective.The singing is a little less controlled, the time swings are a little less stark, the vocals are a little more prominent.The group finds beauty in slight inversions rather than drastic shifts.With Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors have achieved the (near) impossible – rather than bending their style to conform to popular music, they have bent the very definition of popular music and forced it to include them.
The biggest difference between Bitte Orca and previous works is its concentration.On albums like The Getty Address and Rise Above,Longstreth and co. have traditionally made it their business to go beyond the usual – to explore the fringes of sonic space, push the boundaries of rhythm, stretch the ideas of lyrics.Their first five records, beautiful as they are, seem distracted at times.Here, the Dirty Projectors are concise, composed, conceptually concentrated.Here the band has a purpose.
What that purpose is, of course, is practically indecipherable.Confused yet?You should be.This album is at once one of the most blindingly smart albums and numbingly incomprehensible you will find on the market.It juxtaposes glitch and guitar solos with no warning.
“Useful Chamber” is probably the best encapsulation of the album, so it’s no coincidence that the album’s title comes from the chorus.The track starts with drum machines and synthesizers, the most processed and least organic moment you’ll find on any Dirty Projectors record.Longstreth’s distinctive voice enters, more subdued than usual, and is soon joined by the heavenly harmonies of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Hayley Dekle.The song takes its time in building – the synth starts to sound more like an organ, sustained guitars start to move a little bit more, the pace quickens.A breakbeat comes in after the two-minute mark, and Longstreth intones, “I don’t know what I should be looking at, but I will look wherever I’m told.”And then!An explosion of noise interrupts the interlude, with grungy guitars, a choppy solo, and Longstreth desperately singing “Bitte Orca, Orca Bitte”.The ladies follow with harsh harmonies (who knew it was possible?) before the song returns to its original course, which is to say that it’s unpredictably gorgeous for another three minutes.
Other tracks are equally impressive.“No Intention” is one of the most beautiful tracks they’ve ever put together, and certainly one of the most sing-along-able.The chorus of “Remade Horizon” is powerful and joyous.“Temecula Sunrise”, the closest Longsreth gets to his earliest stylistic inclinations (complete with references to brown finches), manages to be downright catchy.From front to back, this album is one of the most stunningly enjoyable records I’ve heard in years.
Bitte Orca is a potent nine songs, clocking in at just over 40 minutes.For the first time in the Dirty Projectors’ catalogue, the band really gels.Longstreth isn’t afraid to let Coffman and Deradoorian carry some tracks (see first single “Stillness is the Move” and “Two Doves”) but doesn’t hide his own often polarizing voice.The group works as an ensemble and the guitar work is exquisite.For the first time that I can remember, it doesn’t sound like the Dirty Projectors are experimenting with music.They aren’t creating art that happens to be music, they’re making music that happens to be art.It’s that inversion that carries Bitte Orca to a new level.
To enter to win a copy of Dirty Projector’s Bitte Orca, leave a comment with your thoughts on the tracks you’ve just sampled, or (if you’ve listened to it) the album. Make sure you leave your name/email address in the provided fields! Entries will be accepted until June 19th