Dirty Projectors Go From Covering Black Flag to Being Sublimely Inventive

Here's what some critics say about Dave Longstreth and the rest of Dirty Projectors: Although vastly complex, some of their work is nearly un-listenable. It's too busy, too demanding, or just flat-out too peculiar.

Here's what I say: That sort of talk is beyond stupid. Calling the Projectors' work anything other than "genius" is depraved indifference to great art.

In 2007, New York-based Dirty Projectors gained the attention of music nerds around the world with their reinvention of the quintessential Black Flag album Damaged. This album, entirely re-created from memory, featured inventive guitar playing and structurally sound vocal arrangements, as well as various intimate and powerful images that one would never have expected to come out of the old punk classic.

There is a delicate craft involved in Longstreth's process. Speaking casually about how his latest album, Bitte Orca, came to be, he says that it was merely a collection of songs the band wrote while touring on their previous album, Rise Above. I don't believe him. It's clear there is definitely a bigger picture here. What they're trying to accomplish is hard to tell, but it seems the new record is more than just a culmination of all the grand and obscure things Longstreth has discovered along the way.

It was all the imagination of Longstreth, who assumes the role of musical director instead of frontman. A Yale graduate, Longstreth re-imagined Rise Above and created an instant indie hit the likes of which his previous albums had never approached. The band has since picked up momentum and has become accepted by audiophiles as nothing less than abstruse quasi-royalty. This summer, Dirty Projectors have done it again with even more unfathomable melodies, arrangements, and flourishes on Bitte Orca.

Bitte Orca may very well be Dirty Projectors' most accessible album to date. For one thing, Longstreth utilizes the powerful vocal duo of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian to create catchy pop-R&B- influenced tracks like "Cannibal Resource" and "Stillness Is the Move," using the many centuries-old technique of rhythmic alternation called hocketing, making the album sound even more musically sophisticated. Deradoorian even gets a chance to shine in the ballad "Two Doves," an exceedingly abnormal track that takes a minimalist approach by using acoustic guitar and strings. The minor details and the attention Longstreth pays to arranging intricate guitar patterns to mimic the tightly syncopated drum beats and the constantly fluctuating vocals are not superfluities but talents that seem to come naturally to him. He executes each song as its own special piece, with its own special place on the record.

Sonically, Dirty Projectors push the envelope. They are that edgy new band you hear on NPR and they are that refreshing new band that put bloggers and college radio DJs in a frenzy. Their recent popularity has even scored them opportunities to collaborate with some legendary acts. In 2009 alone, Dirty Projectors collaborated with Talking Heads' David Byrne on a song called "Knotty Pine" (which appeared on the Dark Was the Night charity compilation) and wrote songs for a collaboration with Björk at a Housing Works charity event in New York.

Amidst all the strange noises, cunning dexterity, and mostly avant-garde approach, they still maintain strong pop sensibility. You may not know how many guitarists are performing a song as the notes bounce back and forth from one speaker to another in an intense game of audio pong, but the effect creates an exotic and melodic musical conversation that somehow seems familiar. Their efforts and charm only make them sound like they know exactly what they're doing — and doing it well.

 
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