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REVIEW: Dirty Projectors – ‘Dirty Projectors’ (Domino)

  • 9/10
    - 9/10


After five years of silence, David Longstreth delivers a break-up album of rare insight and unpretentious, interesting execution.

A break-up album is an art form in itself. Only the most self-aware and talented writers can elevate it beyond the mediocrity of guitar/piano ballads and how-could-you lyricisms. Dirty Projectors, however, are known for being one of the most experimental indie bands of the past decade, and while this self-titled album hardly falls into the indie category anymore, David Longstreth’s songwriting skills and the experience he’s accumulated over the past few years of working with high-profile names from Kanye to Solange shines through.

It is impossible to ignore the contextual separation of singer-songwriter David Longstreth and his girlfriend, as well as former bandmate, Amber Coffman. The entire release oozes heartbreak and post-separation contemplations on life. The band did away with their previously predominantly acoustic sound for one that takes its cues from recent Kanye West and Bon Iver works, making the album seem like a fitting thematic and cultural sequel to 808s & Heartbreak. Dirty Projectors were always more R&B-influenced than their indie peers in any case, as their 2009 masterpiece Bitte Orca attests, but this is the first time that Longstreth seems to fully embrace the sound, while still retaining the scattered song writing structures he’s known for.

The opening track ‘Keep Your Name’ is a sort-of spiritual successor to a previous song of DPs, basing itself around a warped sample of the couple singing “we don’t see eye to eye” from ‘Impregnable Question’, a song written about the relationship between the two former bandmates. Dirty Projectors is full of little touches and references like this, which makes it that much more substantial and entrenched within a broader context, as well as being a nice Easter egg for fans of the band. The song also contains tongue-in-cheek remarks about the separation of the pair’s careers. “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame / Now we’ll keep ‘em separate and you keep your name” – Longstreth sings. Knowing that Coffman has now gone on to do collaborations with the likes of Major Lazer and J. Cole, the parallels become increasingly pronounced.

‘Up In Hudson’ is one of the highlights of the album. The song is an example of great songwriting and instrumentation, containing about a dozen different instruments that never seem to overshadow each other and instead manage to flow seamlessly from one part to the next (a reminder of Longstreth’s skills of orchestration and arrangement). Lyrically, it traces the entire relationship of Longstreth and Coffman, from the immediate connection of two like-minded people meeting, to their life together on the road, to their imminent break-up, in between heart-wrenching choruses of “And love will burn out / And love will just fade away”.

In accordance with the rest of Dirty Projectors, it contains meta references to the band’s career and previous releases. “Then I knew: maybe I could be with you / Do the things that lovers do / Slightly domesticate the truth / And write you ‘Stillness Is The Move’”. The final reference being a lead single that Longstreth actually wrote for Coffman to sing on Bitte Orca, which also helped to raise Coffman’s profile as an artist in her own right.

The entire album goes on in a similar vein as the songs flow into one another consistently, each containing a mix of post-classical orchestrations, R&B grooves, tasteful voice-pitching, sampling and intelligent references to other musician’s, works of literature, etc. While the quite bookish and brainy way of how Longstreth has always approached songwriting might’ve turned off some people in the past, this new release sees him finally hit the balance between sincerity, self-awareness and highbrow allusions that is a remarkable achievement.

On ‘Little Bubble’ the writer remarks on the literal cosy social bubble that being in a relationship offers us: “We had our own little bubble / For a while” against a backdrop of string instrumentation and lo-fi, almost retro effects on his voice, evoking a sense of nostalgia in congruence with the lyrics. ‘Winner Take Nothing’ is an insightful meditation on a relationship broken beyond the point of any sort of mutual gain for both parties. Not a single song seems to be a filler track, each adding a new perspective on the main point and theme of the album.

Dirty Projectors continues the artsy tradition of songwriters splicing and distorting instruments post-production and adopting referential lyrics to get their point across. But even in comparison to the frontrunners of this type of meddling, like Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens, Longstreth does not come up short, providing yet another example of pushing forward his own musical ethos in a new direction with unpretentious, appealing and interesting results. (9/10) (Ellie Wolf)

Listen to Dirty Projectors here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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