Dirty Projectors frontman, and indeed the centre of their sprawling invention, David Longstreth was holed up in a house in New York for twelve months writing songs for the group’s new album. He ended up with 70.
The intermittent visits from his bandmates were all about whittling down the material, rehearsing the songs, and finally arriving at the twelve tracks that make up the glorious Swing Lo Magellan.
Longstreth has said this is “an album of songs, an album of songwriting”, and indeed, moments like Gun Has No Trigger are Dirty Projectors at their most accessible. Longstreth consciously reigns in his note-wandering vocal lines, the arrangements more attentive to their leader’s new direction. A steady breakbeat, minimal bassline and choral “ooohs” are pretty much the extent of the instrumentation on what is one of many highlights.
The title track is even more exposed, like a McCartney ballad circa the White Album. I also hear pieces of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding within the rolling drumset and acoustic simplicity. Longstreth seems to be thriving on a new intimacy within his compositions; the shift of focus alone makes this the group’s finest album to date.
Maybe That Was It crashes on every note; its guitar wailing, almost de-tuning, and the group sounding like a wonky Beach Boys. It feels like an extended hand from previous records in its unnerving edge and wandering structure. It’s reassuring that the group’s uncompromising personality is still embedded within their DNA. Yet it’s fair to say on Sing Lo Magellan, Longstreth and co are balancing their left-of-centre pop with moments that demonstrate a much deeper sense of self.
Is this a similar journey to that of Deerhunter, ok they went from the uncompromising psyched guitar trips to a new found love of indie-pop sensibilities, but both are shifting in new directions. And like Deerhunter, Dirty Projectors have a unique songwriter at the helm, reading the stars rather than relying on a map. But while some may feel that Swing Lo Magellan is a bid for a wider audience, I see it more as affecting self-discovery, progress even. And as a result, we’ve been gifted with one of the albums of the year.