Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan is officially released next week, though the band’s streaming the record in its entirety, right now, over at NYTimes. This is great news. Open a tab, press play, let’s discuss. For those who’ve been following along, this is one of the year’s most anticipated records. For those new to the conversation, there’s never been a better time to join. Swing Lo is the first full-length in three years from a band that prides itself on shifting conceits between albums. We left off in 2009 with the great Bitte Orca, a relatively accessible breakthrough for an often obtuse outfit that employed innovative arrangement techniques to critical delight. Vocals ricocheted around the room, guitars echoed Zeppelin, hardcore, and soukous, beats were steeped in contemporary R&B and new millinneal experimentalism, all to alchemically inviting ends. Magellan’s big leap shifts focus from those arrangement elements, landing the band in the even more accessible, intimate, and direct realm of basic song form. If Bitte Orca was the moment when Dirty Projectors learned to wear their hearts on their sleeves, Swing Lo Magellan showcases its leader learning how to better tailor the outfit. Meet David Longstreth: Earnest songwriter.

While Magellan ratchets up Bitte’s inviting accessibility, it is not really an extension of that record. (If anything, that was done by Longstreth’s suite of songs for/with Björk, Mount Wittenberg Orca, which he excellently called Bitte’s “younger, hotter sister.”) Dirty Projectors have always been, and continue to be here, a shape-shifting project — due in part to a revolving cast of musicians orbiting around its central star in David Longstreth, and in part to their leader’s clear intent to evolve aesthetically between records. In fact, more than evolution, Dirty Projectors’ movements operate as reaction: Taking stock of their last step and moving in a dramatically different direction. The personnel is different this time due to Angel Deradoorian’s hiatus (her duties are absorbed here by returning vocalists Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle, and fulfilled in live settings so far by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner), and the substitution of drummer Brian McOmber by Mike Johnson. (Nat Baldwin’s back, too, which is a good thing.)

In terms of aesthetic, you could project a lot from their first single, “Gun Has No Trigger.” That the feverish “Trigger” swells and sells itself on the back of powerful vocal harmonies from the band’s female faction is not a particularly new look. But the spacious sonic palette, the lack of guitar occupying the middle frequency, the fat backbeat, and the simple arrangement kept the focus squarely on song and lyric. These are significant facts in the context of Magellan, which is an album committed to songcraft on a track-by-track basis more than any prevailing narrative or conceit. (And a commitment to beats.) The singer-songwriter mold highlights Longstreth’s intimate and personal lyrics throughout. It’s unclear if he’s playing the role of autobiographer or storyteller, though that’s not important as his songs’ emotional bent. “Just From Chevron” is a touching story set against the backdrop of an oil spill; “Impregnable Question” is a straightforward love song about real love, the sort with dimension, where people disagree and accept and need each other anyway; “Dance For You” takes “dance” and hoists it to metaphorical heights of spiritual and existential yearning. The Vedas do this, too; the fun with Dirty Projectors is knowing they could actually be making that intentional, lofty reference … or they could have been thinking of, like, Beyoncé and “Dance For You.” That track’s optimistic, ear-worming existentialism dovetails into the loping, electrified “Maybe That Was It,” and philosophy majors should take note that this as triumphant an ontological track sequencing as you’ll hear all year.

No, there is nothing as breakout summer-jam worthy as “Stillness Is The Move,” but still, album highlights abound. This time Amber Coffman’s star turn comes via the gorgeous, social values-meditation “The Socialites,” a plaintive and pretty tune cut of the same cloth as, though more complicated than, Bitte’s Deradoorian-tune “Two Doves”. The record’s opener “Offspring Are Blank” is a powerful kick to the chest, exploding into brash rock and opening with Longstreth clearing his throat. In fact, that’s what opens the whole record, and that’s fitting: Dave is more stronger and assured as a rock singer, but also just as a voice in general. The most majestic and symbolic moments come compliments of “Maybe That Was It” and, at the heart of the album, “See What She’s Seeing,” which functions as a showcase for the record’s styles in the same manner “Useful Chamber” did last time. In “Seeing” we hear scurrying electronic beats, striking string and vocal arrangements, and ecstatic lyrics that crest with each “Yeah!”

This much is true: This song, and that “Yeah” thing he’s doing, performed in front of a respectfully quiet audience will be a showstopper. Even truer: What makes Magellan special is not just that this experimental band has made such a successful foray into more orthodox forms, but that they’ve done so without losing the experience and identity developed over years of exploration. The record elegantly encapsulates many of the Projectors’ past triumphs: There’s the “in the room” production feel, a crackling warmth and resonance they captured with Björk on Wittenberg; there’s copious moments of beautiful strings and orchestration a la Getty Address; there are weird New Attitude beats; there are those vocal harmonies, which don’t hocket like Bitte but still propel many of the album’s best moments. The arrangements aren’t the focus, the abstraction is not at the fore — but they do occupy the periphery in a casual yet critical way that elevates the entire production and skews it as something fresh and new while trading in traditionalist tropes.

Later this year, Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear also will release follow-ups to beloved albums released in 2009. Whether or not there is an actual sense of community amongst them, it’s understandable why us media-types, with reductive tendencies and an addiction to easy narrative, would group them together — temporally, geographically, aesthetically. If any bands in this cluster dislike the association, they’ve done themselves no favors but picking the same year to return -and the other two did themselves no favors by letting Dirty Projectors step up first: 2012′s opening salvo, Swing Lo Magellan, is an exceptional record.

Swing Lo Magellan is out 7/10 via Domino. Please note that the band will be live-streaming their show from Music Hall Of Williamsburg on 7/9, at which time we can all judge my prediction about “See What She’s Seeing” together. Also on the way, a film directed by Longstreth entitled Hi Custodian, presumably after a lyric in “Unto Caesar”. Watch the new trailer below:

Comments (71)
  1. Did anyone else not realize how divisive Bitte Orca was until recently? I thought everyone loved that album.

    • Glad you said that. That was my recollection of 2009. I guess I didn’t pay close enough attention?

      • It was one of the year’s consensus picks, undoubtedly, but an album that a lot of people – and this includes people who immediately liked some of the record and eventually liked most/all of it – found pretty difficult going. Swing Lo Magellan is still a crazy motherfucking album, but I rarely feels like its songs are challenging by design.

        • Agreed. SML does a little exploring but it certainly centers around good hooks.

          Back to plb102′s point. I think it’s also very easy to forget how the dialogue went back then when you consider how many great albums there were to discuss that year.

        • I’m definitely in the camp that thought everyone liked Bitte. In fact, Bitte is partially responsible for me getting into, ahem, “indie rock.”

          People seem to be getting all autobiographical on here lately, so I’ll mention that I’m a jazz musician who grew up in the punk/hardcore scene but ended up in a self-imposed jazz/classical bubble for about 5 years. Bitte Orca, Actor and Veckatimest were the three albums that blew my mind open and made me want to burst out of that bubble. I had absolutely no trouble getting into BO; the appeal was immediate and visceral. After years of listening to Mingus and Ornette (not to mention Schoenberg and Stravinsky), Bitte Orca sounded to my ears as accessible as anything on the Top 40.

          Also: I am really enjoying SLM on third listen. One of my favorite parts of Bitte was the almost free-jazz-ish drumming, which felt like it could go off the rails at any moment, and I kinda miss that here, but appreciate SLM’s polished beats for what they are.

    • I kind of really disliked Bitte Orca but because I’m really like this one, I went ahead and just bought the cassette of that album in hopes that I’ll realize what I missed out on three years ago.

    • I’m definitely in the “not sure how I felt about it at first, and then decided I didn’t really like it” crowd for BO – I think your point is valid, and that, like me, a lot of people spent a good amount of time trying to get into the album and failing. I respected it more than I actually liked it, and I think a lot of it was a bit too “quirky” for me (for lack of a better word).

      With that said, I’m liking SLM a lot more. It’s experimental without being grating, and the hooks are way more memorable. I hope it’s as well received, because I’m pretty sure it’s a better album.

    • I really liked it. Should I ever get married, I think “Two Doves” would be a good first dance song. You’re all invited, by the way. Please let me know if you’re gonna require a vegetarian option.

      • It would be super cute if two Sterogummer’s got married here based on their mutual admiration for a band, album and / or song. I bet donnytilla has a minister’s license, too, that he got online to perform the ceremony and instead of asking, “Does anyone object?,” we could all have the ability to downvote the marriage.

        • Not sure if this is revealing too much, but I’m getting married in October and the idea of Donnytilla performing the ceremony is amazing. I thought it would be funny to get some sort of local celebrity to marry me but D-Titty is the best idea yet. My only question is would he be a puppet or a real guy? I hope I don’t think about it while I’m standing up there and start cracking up.

          “Two Doves” seems to me like a tough song to dance to but that might be b/c I’m awkward and a terrible dance. It’s certainly a pretty song that would suit a wedding.

          • Congratulations plb!

            This is just slightly old news to me, since I got your wedding invitation in my e-mail today!

          • Congrats, dude. It also kind of smashes my image I had of you in a mind-blowing way — I figured you were some college age, young, reckless and carefree but solitary nerd guy. You could very well be all of those things, but I didn’t take you as on the cusp of marriage. Go live, plb102…

          • Pretty funny, you didn’t quite have me pegged. I think I actually dated myself once in a response to you. I remember you talking about drifting away from your friends and relating to it. I’m at that age too and even though I may be on the opposite end as you it is still bittersweet.

            Anywho, we are waaaaay off topic, but opening up feels good. I’m hoping that in this week’s shut up dude we get to hear about djreshie’s relationship with his parents.

            BTW, Raptor Jesus, in lieu of a gift we are accepting donations to the American Humane Society.

          • Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner. I was ministering (a word) a wedding on Tracy Island and wasn’t able to get a shuttle out for a couple of days. got some pretty sweet souvenirs though

            and that’s all i ask in return. or, i am a puppet so just stick your hand up my ass and wiggle me around a bit and you can even forget the souvenirs – that will be all the memories i’ll need ;) ;) ;) i have so little

            Oh and congratulation big plbin! You don’t have to book me or anything, I’ll just show up. its gonna be weird. bring diapers.

            -dt

          • wait wait wait wait wait wait mikey do me next!!!!!!!!!!! not literally but i want your image of me, pls ill pay for it (w/ luv)

        • To quote Chloe Grace Moretz’s character from (500) Days of Summer, “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate. ” I laughed it off, too, until I dated two different chicks (linked by having similar music tastes as me) and realized the writers were trying to save me (and countless other dudes) from their own experiences.

      • “Our bed is like a failure”…maybe not

      • My wife walked down the isle to a loop of the beginning of “Two Doves.” It was perfect. (The rest of us walked down to “Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind…” by Sufjan, btw.)

        • My wife walked down the aisle to a loop of the beginning of “Two Doves.” It was perfect. (The rest of us walked down to “Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind…” by Sufjan, btw.)

  2. this def plays out a bit more accessible than Bitte Orca. Dave is one of the best male vocalists out there, love this alot

    About to Die and Just From Chevron are big highlights for me, but the whole record plays out wonderfully

  3. that picture is having a strange effect on me…

    DOWNVOTE EVERYTHING

  4. This record absolutely kills, no doubt about that. I will say, however, I was a little taken aback by Dave Longstreth’s Kermit-esque harmonies at the beginning of “Offspring Are Blank”, then everything kicks in and the my ears exploded. Or something.

  5. The list of favorite Side 1s / Track 1s has just gotten a little more Offspring Are Blank-er

  6. Love the way this guy plays guitar. “Just From Chevron” especially.

  7. Also, “Maybe That Was It” could definitely sit comfortably on a handful of Sufjan records

  8. Once through it. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I’m very interested to see how Dave plays “Maybe That Was It” live. Using the tuning pegs like that was a great idea (if, in fact, that’s what he’s doing).

  9. Yesterday’s most pleasant surprise: Finding out that Dirty Projectors added a 2nd DC date after the first one really quickly sold out!! I can’t wait to hear this new stuff live.

    • mine was finding a tootsie roll in the back of my shorts. tasted kinda funny but it was the most pleasant surprise i had going.

      i’m pretty sure it wasn’t candy. please help me.

  10. The guitar on the track “Swing Lo Magellan” is beautiful. Definitely don’t like the album nearly as much as Bitte (yet), but I’m going to keep listening.

  11. just really digging this album. wanna listen to it all the time right now. they’ve packed a real 1-2-3 punch with rise above and bitte orca (bitte being my fave!).

  12. Great record but I would love to have more songs with Amber on lead vocals.

  13. Headphones reveal a lot of really great details on this thing as well. I’ve probably given it 8 or so straight-through listens now, and as is the case with a lot of the Dirty Projectors material, a little familiarity goes a long way. I really like the looser production and the folkier elements mixed in with the fractured punkfunk shit they do so well. Not a perfect comparison, but I’m ready to declare the Dirty Pros a Talking Heads for the 21st Century.

  14. I think that the craziest thing about this album is how much it encapsulates everything from their discography, continues to add new tricks, and is being heralded (so far) as their most accessible offering to date. I didn’t mean to come off as annoying before, but that is the reason why I loved the new Liars album.

    I mostly hear a balancing act between the Glad Fact and Bitte Orca, even though I can hear the other elements Amrit described above. I will admit, though, that between this and Bitte Orca, I find BO more accessible (production, instrumental hooks, and lyrics). I think that these are his best lyrics and I am hoping for a lyrical book (won’t hold my breath), but there is definitely some pretty bleak stuff on here next to the uplifting stuff.

    I am sad that I missed them before they replaced Brian and Angel went on hiatus, but I definitely won’t miss them next month!

  15. A lot of this going on too in the record:

  16. I feel like this album has this weird AM rock vibe in some of the songs. Overall I dig the album, but I’m not sure if I’m a fan of that particular aspect yet… I like my Dirty Projectors with nearly incomprehensibly thick guitar, not really into mellow riffage. I think this also explains why “Offspring are Blank” didn’t really do it for me.
    All of this is after my first listen, and we all know Dirty Projectors albums are growers so I’m definitely going to withhold judgment for a few weeks.

  17. Nope, still boring.

  18. I think It’s about time the 2009 group just gave in and did the Grizzly Animal Projectors/Dirty Bear Collective record we’ve all been waiting for.

  19. It’s great, and beautiful. I don’t think it’s as good as Bitte Orca. But BO definitely grew on me substantially, so we’ll see…

  20. About to Die….that FOCKING drum beat! I SCREAMED the first time I heard it.

  21. FREE THE ALTBAGUETTES
    FREE THE ALTBAGUETTES
    FREE THE ALTBAGUETTES

  22. it’s ok i guess

  23. I love it, but I knew I would. Dirty Projectors to me is almost effortlessly the band Grizzly Bear is desperately trying to be, but I’m not the biggest GB fan.

    • you think these bands sound alike? or it sounds like you at least think the intention of these bands is similar? way off, s.jean.

      • They don’t sound much alike per se, but they both are bands that like to use a lot of layered harmonies and odd song structures, which I admire. I just happen to think DP have a lot more chops and do it quite a bit better. Just my unwarranted two cents.

        • there are a LOT of bands out there that you could chalk up to “layered harmonies and odd song structures.” and grizzly bear, no chops? you’re not impressed by daniel rossen’s guitar work? i’d say think that his playing is no less creative or dexterous than longstreth’s. equally impressed by both.

          not to be a contrarian; just adding to the unwarranted take-two-cents, leave-two-cents tray.

          • “i’d say think.” nice, cornell. ignore that “think”… just like i did when i posted.

          • On Rossen: Not particularly. I’ve never heard a Grizzly Bear song where I was really impressed by the guitar playing. I don’t think he is anywhere near Longstreth, who has some pretty impressive ability and has a very unique style. As someone who plays and teaches guitar, I don’t even think it is really even debatable either, as dick-ish as that sounds. I’m sure if you asked Rossen himself he wouldn’t consider himself as strong of a guitarist as Longstreth.

            And yep, no prob. We all don’t like the same music, obviously. I get the appeal of GB and appreciate them, but they just don’t do much for me. It doesn’t really connect, and always seems more style over substance to me. DP on the other hand just nails it in my eyes. To each’s own.

    • I have the exact opposite reaction. To me DP sound much more calculated and ‘desperate’ to me in their musical endeavors, always bordering on ‘over-wrought’ and ‘clinical’ whereas GB seem to have a more natural way of singing/song writing, while still the while remaining interesting. If there’s anything I wouldn’t call the dirty projectors it’s ‘effortless’ , this album and the last reek of toiling, which isn’t a bad thing always, just say’n

      • Yep, I can see that as well. DP certainly have their moments of probably trying a little too hard to be creative and outside of the box. That’s why I’m liking this new album so much, because they’ve reigned that in and found the sweet pot.

  24. The rate at which this album has grown on me is crazy. I liked it at first, and now I think it’s completely brilliant. Once I came to understand the architecture of each song, I think I realized just how much of a classic the album really is.

  25. I’m already really digging this album. It’s most definitely more accessible, and for people who were polarized over BO like me, this is a great thing.

  26. I’m a little confused as to how people are calling this more accessible than Bitte Orca. The beats on Swing Lo are way more out there than the Bitte Orca drums.

    Gonna be hard to top BO, I’ll keep listening to this and let it grow on me. Can’t wait for the CD release, been listening to the NY Times stream over and over.

    Really miss Angel!

  27. Also…love you Dave, but your vocals kind of mess up Just From Chevron…should have let the girls handle the whole track!!

  28. classic

  29. the cover just reminds me of being downvoted so much during the caption contest. wounds too deep to heal….

  30. Premature Evaluation? More like Premature Ejaculation mirite?

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