Two things have happened to Dirty Projectors‘ Dave Longstreth since he last released an album: he broke up with longtime girlfriend (and former singer/guitarist for the band) Amber Coffman, and he collaborated with Kanye West in writing “FourFiveSeconds”. These two events have influenced this album immeasurably.
I feel that for many artists, a breakup album is the time that they decide to strip back all their artsiness and embrace acoustic instruments. Picture Beck on “Sea Change”, he abandoned the weirdness and irony of “Odelay” or “Mellow Gold” for straightforward sincerity. It’s not an album I really like (I don’t know if I’ve ever made it the whole way through in one sitting). This is certainly not the case on Dirty Projectors‘ self-titled new album. No, Dirty Projectors‘ Dave Longstreth has been listening to Kanye – he even tells us as much on “Up In Hudson”. He has made a breakup album as unconventional as “808s and Heartbreak”. Dirty Projectors is certainly the same group, there are the heavy afro-pop influences and Longstreth‘s uncanny yelp on every track, but now the vocals are heavily manipulated and the instruments are mostly electronic. Projectors bears relation to “Bitte Orca” the way Yeezus does to “The College Dropout”. That is, it abandons any attempt to be organic or soulful and wallows in its own artificiality.
Longstreth‘s breakup with Coffman is the subject matter of all of the lyrics here, really. In places it’s a bit much. The album literally starts with the sound of wedding bells that suddenly glitch and stop (it’s an audio metaphor!). This track, “Keep Your Name”, also has Longstreth announce “what I want from art is truth, what you want is fame” (the “you” here presumably being Coffman). This track also features some of the most interesting productions, with Longstreth‘s voice pitched-down over piano and electronic beats. My one issue with this track is in the bizarre pseudo-rapping that Longstreth embarks on in the second half of the song.
Dirty Projectors‘ new album demonstrates that Longstreth‘s ear for production and arrangements is simply flawless
“Up In Hudson” gives us an account of Longstreth and Coffman‘s meeting which can be slightly cringeworthy (and will probably be unlistenable for Coffman). Again, Longstreth‘s ear for production and arrangements is flawless. The song starts with an autotuned choir joined by a gorgeous brass section and eventually some African drumming. The album’s best, and most accessible, track is “Cool Your Heart”, a collaboration with the vastly underrated Dawn Richard (with lyrics written by Solange). The song probably sounds the closest to the band’s classic sound, even if it does add a fair amount of electronic glitches. Strangely, Richard here sounds a fair amount like Coffman did on “Get Free”, a song she sang for Major Lazer (perhaps it’s the slight Jamaican vibe).
Ultimately, the production and arrangements manage to outshine the slightly gossipy intrigue of the lyrics. Longstreth‘s production and arranging skills have always been the band’s best asset, and his embrace of a wider electronic palette has only further aided this. On this album, you can hear that Longstreth loves Lil’ Wayne just as much as experimental orchestral music. A track like “Cool Your Heart” can be simultaneously hook-filled and avant-garde. Longstreth reminds us that in our modern world, these musics exist side-by-side. For many of us, having to choose between Beyoncé and jazz would be unthinkable. They are different musics for different situations. This album is really the sort of music that I wish more indie bands would make, but then I frequently care more about theory and postmodernism than songs and people.