Review Summary: A bit tame compared to earlier work, Swing Lo still provides enough good material to warrant your attention
The Dirty Projectors have made a name for themselves through the practice of taking a steak knife to fun-loving indie rock and rearranging the pieces into crazy dada shapes. Their latest effort, “Swing Lo Magellan”, feels a bit more like ’64-era Beatles tossed into a slap-chop. It just kind of lacks bite. Nothing slaps you across the face with “Bitte Orca”‘s prog-ish wonderment and makes you ask: “How they hell did they think of that?” Instead, the band waivers between the slightly odd and the purely conventional, coming out in the end with a fairly uneven, albeit enjoyable, collection of songs.
It’s not that the band have left behind every semblance of their roots. The album still plays like a glorified sing-a-long (talented singers only!), complete with the ever-prominent clap tracks and harmonies that make the album feel inviting and almost nearby. Come join in! With the Projectors, weird meter has always been the key to freaking us out, and some of that remains. “About to Die” is driven by an ominously odd roll that falls here and there into a simple one-two beat, only to devolve again. But off-kilter rhythms take a supporting role here, displaced by the band’s relatively new-found obsession with hip-hop beatisms, which can be heard from the very outset on “Offspring are Blank”. With hip-hop, it’s all about maintaining a groove... something totally alien to this group. Maybe that’s why they’re so seemingly fascinated with it.
The off-putting “Maybe That Was It” constantly flirts with the idea of resolving, but never quite makes it there, leaving us on the edge of our seats for the entirety and proving that this band retains a thorough mastery of the power of tension. Perhaps it should be expected, then, that the next track, “Impregnable Question,” is the most unabashedly pop on the album. I mean this track is a couple of odd hi-hat hits away from a perfect chart topper. Hey, I’ve got no problem with pop! I love it as much as the next guy, but that’s only because, normally, I know there are bands like the Dirty Projectors out there wreaking structural havoc. Where they try to ascribe weirdness to the plainly plain (that vocal echo on “Dancing for You”), it just doesn’t quite work. Where’s all the wonderful clutter?
Regardless, the record does have its share of victories. “Just From Chevron” feels like an epic narrative put to the page with startling humbleness, and is easily the best track on the album. For a few moments, you can hear cracks and growls escaping through the consistently creamy sheath of David Longstreth’s vocal delivery, and it makes you wonder why he doesn’t do a bit more shouting. “Unto Caesar” has the most fun without sacrificing too much in terms of novelty. The title track isn’t too challenging, but manages to be carried on beauty alone.
This band always seems to be having a good time, and here’s hoping they keep on. They’ve got ground to cover, and, if you look carefully, you can see the seeds of new experiments sprouting amidst the bubble-gum soil of “Swing Lo”