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Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan June 28, 2012

Posted by gwyoung in Album Reviews, Music.
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Artist: Dirty Projectors

Album: Swing Lo Magellan

Release: Domino, 2012

Genre: Experimental

RIYD: Dirty Projectors before Bitte Orca

Before Dirty Projectors released their 2009 breakthrough, Bitte Orca, the “band” was more of a solo project for Dave Longstreth’s outsider folk and abstract rhythm recordings. The contributions from the now-lead females Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman were mostly constrained to the background “ooh”s and “ahh”s, while the songs themselves were mostly hit-or-miss experiments with various sounds, styles, and recording techniques. One of the main reasons that Bitte Orca was so impressive was because it combined all of these disparate aspects into a sonically tight and conceptually cohesive whole that served as a perfect culmination of the various directions the group had been taking over the years preceding its release. It seemed to rise out of the messy and often discordant back catalog and into its place as a bright and shiny magnum opus of experimental rock, and people took notice.

As such, it’s only natural that listeners are going to compare Dirty Projectors’ latest with its immediate predecessor, and unfortunately that means it’s going to fall short to many ears. Swing Lo Magellan, like a rebellious little brother who is constantly trying to overcome its older sibling’s greatness, pretends as if Bitte Orca never existed, picking up right where 2005’s The Getty Address and 2007’s Rise Above left off. Though most of it isn’t as rambunctious as Rise Above or as bizarre as some of The Getty Address, the album consists of a range of vastly different tracks, each with its own unique perspective that doesn’t fit in with any of its neighbors.

Attracted by the promise of the subtle genius of lead single “Gun Has No Trigger”, I couldn’t wait to devour this album as soon as it leaked. But on the first listen, I couldn’t shake the immediate thought that “Gun Has No Trigger” was a fluke. Now, after giving the rest of the album time to sink in, I’ve come to realize that all twelve of these tracks are flukes. The irony of Swing Lo Magellan is that nothing on it seems to fit into the album’s sound, but because of this the album doesn’t even have a consistent sound that they can fit into. The “outsider” element of the band has returned, as all of these songs feel out of place in terms of time and context. Magellan is filled with false starts and missteps, starting with the surprisingly rocking “Offspring Are Blank” before moving into gentler, lazy folk material embellished with queasy electronic effects and strange recording decisions (such as the incorporation of vibrant studio chatter into the chorus of “Unto Caesar” and the right-fading of entire verses of “Just At Chevron”). Whereas Bitte Orca felt like more of a collaborative effort, Longstreth takes back the reigns on this one, promoting his uncompromising artistic ideas while singing lead vocals on eleven of the twelve tracks (with the exception of the gorgeous Coffman-fronted “The Socialites”), cracking his voice trying to hit the high notes on many occasions along the way.

As usual for the pre-Bitte Orca Dirty Projectors, some of the ideas work while some just don’t. Swing Lo Magellan’s ironically subdued restlessness pays off big-time on some occasions and tanks elsewhere (see “Maybe That Was It”), but that willingness to try new things seems to add to its charm. Fans of Bitte Orca are sure to be disappointed with its clear lack of the epic and masterful qualities of that album, but for those that can see past those obvious shortcomings and hear Swing Lo Magellan as a product of Dirty Projectors’ now decade-long career, Swing Lo Magellan actually fits quite well into their discography, serving as a delightfully playful album of quirky folk melodies.

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1. Conveyor – Conveyor « safer in the dark - July 24, 2012

[…] be classified as comebacks, they have a point: we’ve already heard Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan and Passion Pit’s Gossamer and are still waiting on Grizzly Bear’s Shields, The […]

2. The Top 20 Musical Releases of 2012 « safer in the dark - December 19, 2012

[…] admit, Swing Lo Magellan’s rambling, meandering, folksy nature was a bit off-putting at first, especially when compared with the grand and precise vision behind 2009’s Bitte Orca, but even if […]


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