Dirty Projector’s latest record is easily the strangest album that I’ve heard in 2017 so far, and one that will probably divide opinion massively. On first listen I absolutely hated it, but after a few runs through I find it a very interesting although flawed record that I wanted to get down some thoughts about.
‘Indie darling goes electronic’ is a pretty established career path at this point and the results have ranged from great (Age of Adz) to meh (Reflektor) to unfinished (22, a Million). On Dirty Projectors David Longstreth follows suit and fulfills the prophecy James Murphy laid down on ‘Losing My Edge’: ‘my band have traded in all our guitars for synthesizers, because we want to make something real‘.
But while we may have seen indie artists go electronic before, we’ve never seen them do it quite like this: Dirty Projectors is ostensibly an alt-R&B album with elements of the bands previous indie/art pop still intact. On paper it sounds like a terrible attempt to cop trendy sounds, but David Longstreth has enough weird and out there musical ideas to make it kind of stick.
The pitch-shifted vocals on ‘Keep Your Name’ somehow work, despite sounding like a constipated and heartbroken ASAP Rocky. ‘Little Bubble’ is an effective synthesis of DPs old and new sounds with some very atmospheric and emotive strings. The weird, galloping rhythms and squelchy synths of ‘Work Together’ are a memorable moment on the record, and ‘Ascent Through Clouds’ is a bizarre song that is somewhere in between autotune folk and microhouse.
But for all the interesting ideas and detailed production on show here, there are also some really terrible instrumental choices and vocals that turn me off to Dirty Projectors. Longstreth’s lyrics, mostly about his breakup with former bandmate Amber Coffman, are confessional to the point of cringe, and there are some eccentric vocals here that are pretty questionable.
Take for example the hilariously over-emphasied ‘Death!!‘ backing vocals on ‘Death Spiral’ or when Longstreth sings ‘All I have is my love of love / But you want to blow us up‘. Or the moment in ‘Up In Hudson’ when he uses the fact that he listens to Kanye while Amber listens to 2Pac as a metaphor for how they’re, like, so incompatible and shit. That one in particular had me laughing out loud when I first heard it. Some instrumental moments are a touch obnoxious, too, like the farty and poorly mastered trumpets that blare out in the chorus of this track.
There will be people who find Dirty Projectors to be a classic, just as there will be people who will despise it passionately. I can understand both camps, but I find myself ultimately lukewarm towards it. All the same, I have a lot of respect for artists who are willing to try something new and fail interestingly. File this one with albums like Volta, Here Comes the Indian, or Dean Blunt’s BBF.