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Dirty Projectors “Swing Lo Magellan”: Album Review

Domino Recording Co. (2012)

I’m just gonna say this—and it’s an observation, not a criticism—listening to Dirty Projectors is kind of like listening to Attention Deficit Disorder set to music. That, or the natural extension of the Beatles’ drug-induced later works. Granted, the band’s latest work Swing Lo Magellan is possibly their most focused and elegant work to date, but it’s still an acquired taste, mainly appealing to people who are bored with music as usual.

Admittedly, one of the most endearing qualities of this band’s music is that you never know what you’re going to hear next. Seriously. A handclap-driven loop here, a tastefully-played acoustic guitar riff there, complex shifts in time signature, organs, or strings, or rock guitars—the band’s palate is seemingly endless, and frontman David Longstreth is nothing if not a creative genius. Just don’t be surprised to find all these elements in the same song.

Case in point: opening track “Offspring Are Blank.” The song opens with a tasty vocal harmony-driven, R&B influenced vibe, while Longstreth croons “You came and spoke to me / I saw your face / Your words were like raindrops / From a storm in a vase / Each generation different.” Then, immediately, the sound transforms to a blazing hard-rock riff as Longstreth belts, “He was made to love her / She was made to love him / And their offspring loved them.” If they’d thrown in a vinyl scratch, you’d think the turntable just jumped to a different song. The change is that jarring.

Having said this, Swing Lo Magellan is actually quite accessible for a Dirty Projectors album. Amid the apparent randomness, the songs are (mostly) held together with a clear structure, and you can even sing along to some of them (“Gun Has No Trigger” is surprisingly melodic and singable, for example). And while the sounds and rhythms seem to shift around chaotically at times, if you immerse yourself in the record for awhile, it becomes more apparent that everything belongs there.

You might have picked up by the way I’m wording things that this stuff isn’t exactly my cup of tea. I personally prefer a more laid-back, less experimental, singer/songwriter type of indie, where the music stimulates my brain without putting it on overload. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize genius when I see it, and Longstreth’s creativity demands my respect. Swing Lo Magellan isn’t a record for everyone, but it is very well-crafted, highly creative, and intensely interesting to listen to. Dirty Projectors have outdone themselves with this record, which will likely stand out as one of their best.

ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)

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About the Author


Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Posted in: Featured, Indie/Alternative Music


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