Elusive Brooklyn innovators Dirty Projectors are unafraid to stretch convention – so much so that previous releases have teetered on a fine line between experimental and unlistenable. With ‘Bitte Orca’, the band’s first for Domino, conventional pop pomp gets a hammering into new forms while still retaining essential melodiousness, making this a wholly more appealing venture than previous long-players.
Dirty Projectors’ lynchpin, David Longstreth, is a formidable songwriter, reimagining the capabilities of instrumentation so that the female voice becomes a multi-tracked orchestra and keyboards create string symphonies. A craftsman relies on the quality of his tools and, in the singular vocal abilities of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, Longstreth has found musicians-in-kind, keen to rewrite the rulebooks.
‘Bitte Orca’ features solo vocal performances from both Coffman and Derdoorian, with the former taking the lead on odd R’n’B reinvention ‘Stillness Is The Move’ and the latter embellishing the string-flecked classicisms of ‘Two Doves’; both have been penned by Longstreth with the particular talents of each vocalist in mind.
Much of the rest of the album runs to a steady groove that swings between folk and funk. ‘Temecular Sunrise’ sees electric guitars played like violins as the rhythm is obscured by syncopation and time changes, while ‘Fluorescent Half Dome’ features staccato monkey howling, the like of which rarely finds a home in pop.
That said, much of Longstreth’s work conjures the baroque through languishing motifs and lavish ornamentation, especially in the illustrious antiphonal arrangement of ‘Remade Horizon’. ‘Bitte Orca’ is imbued with Dirty Projectors’ characteristically intimidating intelligence, but this time their vision is sugared by a hankering for pop hooks.
This vision runs thinnest during its brushings with the overwrought. ‘Bitte Orca’ gleams, sonically sun-drenched, with damp-eye joyousness that can grate on repeated listens. Longstreth’s vocal, like those of his female counterparts, lacks any subtlety. This is perhaps essential in order to carry the strangeness of his songs, yet it does tend to saturate.
Featured as they were on the much-lauded charity compilation ‘Dark Was The Night’, Dirty Projects have already piqued the interest of many an ear in 2009 – but with ‘Bitte Orca’ the artistic potential of David Longstreth is fully realised. A genre-bending feat of studied musicianship, this really is one not to be missed.
Words: Hazel Sheffield