Friday, June 5, 2009

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

The way I see it, Dirty Projectors, led by David Longstreth, are at the cutting edge of rock/pop music. The more I listen to Bitte Orca, the more I hear in it. The whole album is incredible but the second half is what I've really been digging. Let's talk for a moment about "Useful Chamber," which seems to me the centerpiece. This lengthy track is, I think, a microcosm of what the Dirty Projectors are about. I love how the drums and bass are very restrained but still doing interesting things - very purposeful. I love the cheesy synth tone that washes over the first section. It sounds like a cheap violin patch that reminds me of the music from "The Oregon Trail" video game. The female backing vocals on this song and throughout the album are just gorgeous. They consist mostly of held chords, sometimes moving chorale style, sometimes breaking up into intricate counterpoint. Listen to the way they slide from one chord to the next in perfect harmony at the end of the song. At other points the voices are jarringly chopped up ProTools-style. The center of this song is a rockin' little rave up with Longstreth's trademark twisted, overdriven faux-Sunny Ade guitar playing and his repeated declamation of the album title. And wow, his guitar playing is amazing throughout the album. The finger-picked acoustic playing is beautiful and weird at the same time; the electric leads are virtuosic but understated.

I also really like the way rhythm is played with on nearly every song. The finger-picking that underlies "Two Doves" constantly threatens to change the time signature, but then pops back into place at the last second. In the last minute or so of "Remade Horizon," which features a chorus that I think says "Yeah I wanna/Remake the horizon," the hi-hat pattern gets chopped up so that it seems like the drummer's losing the beat, but then comes back in again at the right place. It reminds me of similar things that some contemporary hip hop producers are doing with their drum loops. At other points, the band plays with rhythmic dissonances between the guitars and vocals, or builds tension by setting up a swing feel and then having the drums switch to straight time for a few seconds.

Longstreth is tying together all these threads of various musics - African guitar and melismatic singing, minimalist-like rhythmic patterns and phasing, hip hop production techniques, proggy extended structures, various singer-songwriter-isms, rock music - and creating his own personal, powerful statements. I don't always understand what he's doing, but I can tell he knows, and I'm always intrigued.

- Ian Douglas-Moore

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