Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Bitte Orca

2007’s Rise Above, the album of Black Flag “covers” that introduced Dirty Projectors into what I’m going cautiously to term the “indie mainstream,” was something of a departure for the band. One of the primary reasons for this was that, for the first time, it really was a band, rather than a catchall for the esoteric experiments of main-man Dave Longstreth. After four years of lo-fi folk, orchestral compositions and primitivist electronica, here was something that could basically be described as a rock record, presented by a group of likeminded collaborators; Longstreth was still the “musical director,” but his in/famous warble wasn’t the only voice anymore.

Bitte Orca is, in many respects, a logical continuation of Dirty Projectors Mark Two, even to the point that former backing-vocalists Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian get to sing lead. The new line-up (now featuring bassist Nat Baldwin and singer Haley Dekle) may be more expansive, but this change hasn’t come at the cost of the focus that distinguished Rise Above from Longstreth’s sprawling earlier projects, and the band still excels at the art rock/afrobeat/R&B* hybridism of its previous record. However, the thing that really works in Bitte Orca’s favour is its successful fusion of elements from across Dirty Projectors’ career.

This factor isn’t immediately obvious; the opening duo of “Cannibal Resource” and “Temecula Sunrise,” despite being unusually polished, wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on Rise Above. That’s not quite true of “The Bride,” which is eerily reminiscent of something (I can’t seem to figure out what) from 2003’s patchy The Glad Fact, albeit much better recorded. It’s only with “Stillness Is the Move” and its contrasting partner-piece, “Two Doves,” that the new album really finds its own sound. These are the tracks on which Coffman and Deradoorian sing lead, and so, for the first time in Dirty Projectors’ history, Longstreth takes a back seat; conversely, both songs make excellent use of a string quartet, arranged cleverly so as to mimic the crude digital manipulations of 2005’s “glitch opera” The Getty Address.

This wedding of old and new constitutes Bitte Orca at its best. The album’s second half proceeds in an exploratory vein, with synths galore, programmed percussion, Sprechstimme and even some electric guitar solos; as though the magnificent dual centrepiece has persuaded the band to revisit its outré roots more thoroughly. The resulting music, although not quite as consistent as that which has gone before, seals the deal: where previous Dirty Projectors records showcased moments of genius invention, tempered (or augmented, if you were that really jealous sort of fan who covets mainstream inaccessibility) by excursions into cracked vocal gymnastics, grating discords and nigh-on-unfathomable arrangements, Bitte Orca manages to be brilliant, unique and accessible. Finally, Dirty Projectors have produced a document that captures their considerable talents; now the only excuse for not liking them is bad taste.

*Perhaps not a brilliant description, but it beats the Pitchfork Media article that referred to the band as “art jazz.”

1 comment:

Mauricio said...

Thanks for the heads up. Now listening: http://open.spotify.com/album/5370y6sLDhvjsg5eaQpIB4

Seen this? http://www.blogotheque.net/Dirty-Projectors,3220