Dirty Projectors’ self–titled new album begins with bells and ends with an organ. This wedding theme makes ironic sense for an album so single-mindedly focused on the end of a romantic and artistic relationship. “Dirty Projectors” is the first album released by the band since frontman David Longstreth and his longtime partner Amber Coffman broke up, and that loss makes itself felt on every song. In fact, one almost wishes the album explored other themes—by the end of the the nine-track LP, it seems that Longstreth has run out of new things to say about the experience.
At very few points is the album easy to listen to. Wildly syncopated beats, heavy autotune, and an eclectic mix of instruments and styles keep listeners on their toes.
“Dirty Projectors” opens with “Keep Your Name,” a subdued track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Longstreth has called the opener “a divorce song,” and the lyrics certainly reflect that. “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame,” he sings, and it is clear from the song that just as their partnership was both romantic and artistic, so is their breakup. Coffman wanted to move beyond Dirty Projectors onto bigger and better things, but Longstreth was happy staying where he was.
The rest of the songs on the album follow along in the same general vein. “Death Spiral” is a more typical breakup song, comparing Longstreth’s relationship to a plane going down. The beat is heavier and the vocals are harsher, but there is little that makes this song stand out. “Up in Hudson” is very simply the story of the whole partnership, from a meet cute in the Bowery Ballroom to its eventual end. It’s the longest song on an album full of long songs, and is marked by an interesting mix of hand drums and horns. “Work Together” feels like a darker companion to “Keep Your Name.” The lyrics are a bitter reflection on the artistic possibilities that would be open to Longstreth and Coffman if they were to get back together.
It’s not till track five, “Little Bubble,” however, that Longstreth lets go of the artistic aspects of his collaboration with Coffman, and goes completely romantic. The track is a standout—mostly acoustic, at times inflected with notes of soul, and by far the sweetest song on “Dirty Projectors.” The chorus is mostly Longstreth repeating the lines, “We had our own little bubble, for a while,” but he manages to communicate so much heartbreak through those few words.
Because “Little Bubble” is such a welcome break from the more jarring tracks that precede it, the next two tracks, “Winner Take Nothing” and “Ascent Through Clouds”—are an unwelcome return to form. The penultimate song, “Cool Your Heart,” is the closest the album gets to mainstream music, as Longstreth is joined on vocals by Dawn Richard.
Having spent his emotions, Longstreth is ready to let go on “I See You,” the final track. Underscored by organ music throughout, he comes to the realization that “the love that we made is the art.” The other ways in which he was viewing Coffman—primarily artistically—have fallen away, and she’s all that’s left.
All through “Dirty Projectors,” Longstreth wants to communicate the experience of his tragedy. However, at every turn, listeners are rebuffed by the dissonant sounds, unusual beats, and unnecessarily esoteric lyrics. Dirty Projectors seem to want their LP to be unconventional and often particularly specific to Longstreth, Coffman, and their once-shared aesthetic. However, their story and the lyrics that tell it are not powerful enough for the listener to truly care. Even those songs that are general enough for listeners to relate to the lyrics are musically so off-putting that it closes off real emotional experience. “Little Bubble” is the only major exception to this, and its success forces one to consider the unrealized promise of the album’s other tracks. “Dirty Projectors” is hard to connect with, but its greatest virtues are the moments when Longstreth gives up trying to be unconventional and simply sings what he feels.
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