DIRTY PROJECTORS – Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)

Dirty Projectors were a bit of an unknown quantity when I got their debut album, ‘Bitte Orca’, after reading one particular blog that was really championing them. I have to admit that I was not as blown away as they seemed to be, but it was a very good indie-rock album, with Dave Longstreth’s songs veering towards the quirky end of the spectrum, and Amber and Angel’s vocals were a highlight. For their second release Longstreth says that he has just written a load of songs – no theme or concept – and by doing so he seems to have freed his inner pop singer that was always lurking just below the surface. ‘Offspring Are Blank’ starts with some delicious harmony vocals, and an instantly catchy tune, followed by a blistering chorus – everything you could possibly want in a pop song. ‘About To Die’ has a tune that jumps about all over the place, and is more like the indie-rock of their first album, while ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ is swamped in lovely harmonies by Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle (Angel Deradoorian being absent from this recording), and Longstreth delivers another instantly memorable melody. The title track is a folky ballad – just guitar, drums and vocal – and is a chance to reflect on what we have heard so far. Certainly drastically different to ‘Bitte Orca’, but as far as I can hear, for the better. Amber and Haley take lead vocals on ‘Just From Chevron’, until Longstreth comes in on the second verse, and the girls are relegated to backing vocals. ‘Maybe That Was It’ is a weird little song, with a guitar sound seemingly left over from the Quicksilver Messenger Service songbook, and frequently going deliberately out of tune, over which Longstreth’s vocals veer about as wildly as the music. And then the pop stuff is back with ‘The Impregnable Question’, a love song blending Beatles and Beach Boys in one track and making you wonder how the same man can write both this and ‘Maybe That Was It’. ‘See What She Seeing’ at first sounds like a straight-forward indie-pop song, and even has a string section augmenting the chorus, but the disconcerting shoe-box percussion throughout distracts from the song. Amber gets to sing lead vocal on the track that she co-wrote, ‘The Socialites’, and she does a great job, reminding me why one of the selling points of Dirty Projectors’ first album was her voice. ‘Irresponsible Tune’ closes the album with a lament by Longstreth, where he realises that while his music may uplift him, it does nothing to alleviate the ills of the world. I must admit that this album was something of a shock on first hearing, as I expected more of what made the debut so quirky and interesting. However, after a few listens I find that I like it even more than ‘Bitte Orca’, and am really glad that the band have made this change in direction. It makes me wonder whatever the next one will sound like.
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