Dirty Projectors // Swing Lo Magellan // July 10 // Domino
Throughout the pop music history progression and constant evolution have been championed by critics and fans alike. When you think about it, everyone from Beatles to Michael Jackson were constantly changing. Dirty Projectors spent most of their time drifting below the radar while always flirting with pop, lo-fi or otherwise. In a way they remind me of Talking Heads, Dave Longstreth, being the new David Byrne, continues his ascent to cult pop songwriter throne without ever even thinking about dumbing himself or his music down. You might have only heard of Dirty Projectors because of 2009’s still amazing Bitte Orca but Swing Lo Magellan is their 6th album and by now they have the game figured out.
Considering just how intellectual D-Lo always comes across in the interviews and such, it’s a relief to hear that Swing Lo Magellan doesn’t try to sound more clever than your average pop record. It’s not sappy and stupid either. See Impregnable Question for one of the best no nonsense, non cheesy love songs in a while. More than any previous Dirty Projectors LP, Swing Lo Magellan deals with songs as opposed to clever concepts and far out ideas. Really, there’s a good number of songs on here that take something from The Beatles, not that the fab four ever had as much talent as D-Lo. Don’t be scared by a first couple of songs which can sound minimalistic. Swing Lo Magellan still has that unstable jangly guitar tone that the band maintained ever since their 4th LP and first one that started flirting with accessibility - Rise Above. This time it’s used to a lesser extent and leaves some songs lacking in detail while increasing the unpredictability. Swing Lo Magellan is more about feelings that ideas and while D-Lo usually deals with more complex subjects, Swing Lo Magellan is the first album where he truly communicates with his audience on a down to earth level, even if he does come across as naive.
The only duds that were ever on Dirty Projectors’ albums were there because of the concepts not being able to hold many great hooks in a row. With Swing Lo Magellan such problem is removed. This is album that consists of at least 8 great songs, none of them even remotely sounding like a half cooked idea. Lets get this straight from the start. The double trio of Swing Lo Magellan / Just From Chervon / Dance For You and Impregnable Question / See What She’s Seeing / The Socialites are perfect pop. Really. It might work within the indie pop cliches but few bands that work in that circle have as much talent as Dirty Projectors. Beatles and Velvet Underground come to mind but in the end, this is Dirty Projectors at their poppy best offering a couple of songs that are among the best pop written this year. Even the rest doesn’t sound shabby either, although they do require a bit more patience. The first single Gun Has No Trigger might sound like it’s lacking an instrument to carry it but just pay attention to that bass line and tell me it’s not among the best of it’s kind released this year. Even the more out there moments are easy to enjoy. Maybe That Was It is the most left field track on here, ultimately a sound of someone making a song while tuning their guitar. Unto Caesar on the other hand features the female section of the group missing their cue and bursting into laughter couple of times throughout the song. D-Lo knows that every great piece of art is imperfect. That’s just about the only time when Swing Lo Magellan drops the tempo. These 12 songs deal with future, love and uncertainty. What unites them is the quality.
Back in 2009 you had to feel for Dirty Projectors. They ended up second or third on many people’s lists because of Animal Collective dropping Merriweather Post Pavilion and The xx dropping xx. It was unfair on a record as great as Bitte Orca. In 2012 we find all 3 groups going head to head again. MPP was Animal Collective focusing themselves on great songs and simple feelings that everyone can relate to. It didn’t matter that those feelings were expressed by a weird psychedelic pop band. It was pleasant to see that even the biggest weirdos want to have fun in the sun, fall in love and just have a good time. xx were simple too. Swing Lo Magellan feels like an album that should’ve came out in 2009 with its simple motifs and messages. It doesn’t have anything on Bitte Orca conceptually but it gives Dirty Projectors a whole new found appeal - down to earth emotions.