Review Summary: We won't be afraid to grow
With Dirty Projectors
, Dave Longstreth has come full circle. The musical vessel that began in 2001 as a solitary endeavor has always possessed malleable qualities; adjusting and adapting just like the life of its versatile frontman. Longstreth initially created five of his Dirty Projector albums alone before he even so much as finished college, but then proceeded to surround himself with bandmates as touring ramped up and the band as a whole started gaining momentum. The project has always morphed based on the twists and turns of Longstreth’s life, and here we see the product of his highly-publicized breakup with longtime girlfriend/ex-bandmate Amber Coffman. For the first time since 2005’s The Getty Address
, Dirty Projectors is once again a solo effort, and the effects can be heard all across this record’s enormous, emotionally shattered scope. Dave harmonizes vocals with himself, retreats inwards lyrically, and extends his reach as far as he ever has sonically. True to Dirty Projectors’ reputation as burgeoning experimentalists, their eponymous ninth record brings forth even more boundary-testing change. As such, Dirty Projectors
marks yet another reshaping of Longstreth’s musical identity.
Tracks such as ‘Keep Your Name’ and ‘Little Bubble’ want to pronounce Dirty Projectors
as a breakup album of sorts, splashing the album’s canvas in grayscale while reciting forsaken poetry. The lyrics and overall aura of this album are truly down in the dumps, but Dirty Projectors
is less about identifying with Longstreth’s despair as it is about recognizing the art he’s created as a byproduct of that pain. Sure, lines like “I don't know why you abandoned me / You were my soul and my partner” hit hard, but it’s placing those lines atop a distorted loop of Swing Lo Magellan
’s ‘Impregnable Question’ – a love ballad once sung as a duet with Coffman – that places things squarely into perspective. Critics will be quick to default to the lyrics as a means of illustrating Dave’s struggles with the breakup, but it is through the music that he speaks the loudest. Collaborating with the likes of Kanye, Solange, and Joanna Newsom appears to have only throttled his creative appetite here, and the musical directions pursued range from fascinatingly quirky to devastatingly genius.
is essentially a fusion between indie-rock and art-pop, taking the band’s long standing identity and supplementing it with ideas that are equally as daring and forward-thinking, only the parallel genre equivalent of Frank Ocean’s Blonde
or Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!
. Longstreth digs up a lot of soul here, mixes in the warped production and glitch-filled warblings of 22, A Million
, and even crosses it with some surprisingly well-executed hip hop elements (see ‘Keep Your Name’ and ‘Winner Take Nothing’). The richness of the textures and production are sometimes too much, as the occasionally aimless ‘Work Together’ can attest to, but more often than not the sensory overload is worthwhile. For without it, we might not have the majestic brass that opens ‘Up In Hudson’, the off-kilter and slightly crazy strings that interlude ‘Little Bubble’, or the stomping rhythm that results in a handful of blissful interrupts during ‘Ascent Through Clouds.’ The madness of this album is best observed in these sorts of “little moments”, even if when pieced together the image can become a little blurry. Perhaps that’s Longstreth’s intent: to take all of the emotions swirling around in his mind and simply let them scatter where they may. Losing a longtime relationship is, after all, no clean-cut affair.
The most telling moment, at least in terms of emotional significance, shines through on ‘I See You’ – the album’s closing track and a brilliant narrative of personal growth. Dirty Projectors
winds and tumbles through an assortment of feelings, groping about blindly at times in an effort to recognize what it all means. ‘I See You’ finds that storm of firing neurons and coalesces it all into something that finally looks towards the future. There’s this final understanding reached that equates romantic relationships to art – this representation of who we are at a singular point in time; a still frame photo of real life – and ultimately declares “we won't be afraid to grow.” It’s a beautiful intersection between Dave’s life and his art, and as he sings “forward and into it…future imagined by neither of us”, it’s a testament to the unfurling potential of a solo Longstreth.
As he comes full circle, seemingly in music and
life, Dave Longstreth finds himself both wiser and a different person than he was back in 2001. It feels like just the cliché that a breakup album review needs, followed by some anecdote about how he has triumphed over his inner demons. Glaringly apparent (yet true) observations aside however, Dirty Projectors
proves that the project is as viable as ever following what could have been a disastrous chasm within the band. It continues to evolve with Longstreth, as it always has and will seemingly continue to do. Sure, this isn’t the same identity that it assumed on The Glad Fact
or even Swing Lo Magellan
, but that’s life. Dirty Projectors is back with a reshaped identity, serving up experimental/artistic indie-pop while retaining its penchant for eclecticism and unpredictability. The musical project will continue to challenge both Longstreth and his listeners through all of the twisted, pothole-filled back roads of life, while taking snapshots of where it’s at during every rest stop. For Dave, Dirty Projectors
marks one of his most compelling images yet.