Album review: Dirty Projectors – ‘Bitte Orca’

Proof from Brooklyn’s weirdest that ‘intelligent’ doesn’t have to mean ‘difficult’

Pity the maverick, won’t you? While blinkered bands peddle straightforward (read: drab), indie ‘Music For The People’ with nary a murmur of complaint, others stick their heads above the parapet with something inventive only to be met, far too often, with the suspicion that they’re over-complicating things. That smart, creative bands are somehow reneging on music’s main purpose (presumably to make us want to be Liam Gallagher) is, of course, a massive crock of shit. Proudly representing the clever clogs are Brooklyn’s Dirty Projectors, who, on this fifth album, sound something like Vampire Weekend refracted through a trippy hall of mirrors.

Truth is, any complaints about Dirty Projectors being too clever for their own good (can that ever be a valid criticism?) are well wide of the mark. The only real difficulty is that they almost sound like a brilliant pop band, thanks to their silvery hi-life guitars, gorgeous strings and tense, wiry rhythms, only to put curious bystanders to the ultimate test when David Longstreth (a chap even David Byrne thinks is weird) warbles like a monstrous cut-and-shut of Antony Hegarty and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside. It was this meandering voice that put the Projectors’ last thrilling outings – ‘The Getty Address’, a glitch-opera about a suicidal Don Henley, and ‘Rise Above’, Longstreth’s reimagining of Black Flag’s ‘Damaged’ from teenage memory – out of reach for some.

But like the equally bonkers Wildbirds & Peacedrums, the 2009 Projectors have adopted a more enjoyable model, thanks in part to Longstreth holding back that horn. From sun-dappled opener ‘Cannibal Resource’ to euphoric closer ‘Fluorescent Half Dome’, which sounds like Prince leading a drum circle, there’s not much that you could say isn’t made for the pleasure of ‘…The People’. ‘Bitte Orca’ is easy on the ear yet mightily complex, warmly empathetic and a kaleidoscope of styles. Tumbling together we have ’60s psych-pop, prog, Scritti’s falsetto soul, a hyperactive take on King Sunny Adé’s Afropop and, to top it all, sassy, late-’90s R&B.

This last influence bares itself in ‘Stillness Is The Move’, sung by Amber Coffman and sounding not unlike one of Timbaland’s hits with Aaliyah. It should do for Dirty Projectors what ‘My Girls’ did for Animal Collective: prove that cleverness is a virtue.

Chris Parkin