Dirty Projectors -Bitte Orca
FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Dirty Projectors are a band so singularly unconventional that I wondered how they had managed to gain so much popular attention – although their recent David Byre collaboration (the excellent ‘Knotty Pine’, from Red Hot’s much admired ‘Dark Was the Night‘ compilation) certainly must have helped. Dave Longstreth, we are told, studied classical composition at Yale University, a fact that informs his renegade time-signatures and the tricksy, rug-pulling complexity of his recordings. Moreover, he sings like someone doing an impromptu impression of Anthony Hegarty, or even Jeff Buckley, with dubious accuracy, and on ‘Bitte Orca’ is as at home producing lilting chamber folk as contemporary R&B, two genres not normally caught dead in each other’s company. In fact, these unlikely bedfellows form the album’s stunning centrepiece tracks featuring the female vocalists (presumably) adorning the cover artwork: the summery soul of ‘Stillness is the Move’, sung by Amber Coffman, which sounds like Aaliyah; and the lilting, orchestral ‘Two Doves’, which could be Joanna Newsom, but is in fact Angel Deradoorian. That’s right, Aaliyah and Joanna Newsom.
It is worth going back to David Byrne to gain a slippery foothold in describing such a genuinely unusual band. There is something of Byrne and Brian Eno’s Afro-pop infusion here that might please fans of, say, Vampire Weekend or Yeasayer. There is a hint of Toumani Diabaté’s Malian string pickery on ‘Temecula Sunrise’ and ‘No Intention’, and a distinctly African bent to the chanted melodies of ‘Remade Horizon’. Longstreth, however, exceeds even Byrne in his unadashedly intellectual, and often impenetrable, lyrical concerns. The album title and some of the track names (‘Florescent Half Dome’ sounds like it was taken at random from an art catalogue, ‘Cannibal Resource’ sounds like the title of some unreadable essay by Foucault or Derrida) tell you all you need to know: Longstreth is probably cleverer than you, and he doesn’t care if you don’t understand what he’s talking about.
No matter, as if to prove Longstreth’s higher understanding of musical structure (or, just as likely, his knack for a good melody), Bitte Orca’s songs have a way of worming their way into your head. I woke up with the great ‘No Intention’ jangling around my head the other day. The day before that it was Elton John. While occasionally, as on the opener, things initially seem a bit too busy sonically, each listen reveals a new layer of brain-teasing intricacy. While sometimes the avant-garde posturing can make for a chilly listen, emotionally at least, and the fragmented song structures can jar, there is no mistaking the radiating pop sensibility running throughout, which makes Bitte Orca a more accessible record than their past efforts, but a no less inventive one. Compelling. confounding stuff.