Dirty Projectors – ‘Bitte Orca’

August 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, July 28, 2009.

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca
(Domino/EMI)

Brooklyn coterie Dirty Projectors bend, tickle and twist so many pop conventions – warp, fragment and mutate so many forms – that it’s almost impossible to work out just how they pull it off. Fifth album Bitte Orca may well be creative logician Dave Longstreth and vocal collaborators Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian’s most accessible record to date, but will still leave many scratching their heads.

The follow-up to 2007’s Rise Above – in which Longstreth re-imagined and re-embellished Black Flag’s 1981 classic Damaged by memory – sees the group at their wildly deconstructive, technically watertight and errantly collagistic best; at one point floating through placid harmonies, at the next diving into a thicket of stuttered time signatures and explosions of angularity. It’s a veritable sonic and vocal freak show (Longstreth’s vocal still sounds like a steroidian incarnate of Jeff Buckley), but one brimming with successes.

What really ties Bitte Orca down is the fact that, rather than temper his exploratory leanings, Longstreth has managed to articulate and play to his strengths. Melody, harmony, arrangement and vocal and guitar technique are key here. From the shrill, three-pronged vocal gymnastics, handclaps and wrangling guitar phrases of opener ‘Cannibal Resource’, this proves an album of genuine, exquisitely crafted songs. It’s just that every gesture, every part and every layer is so overstated, so foregrounded, so aggressively ornate at it seems almost affronting.

Longstreth’s vocal arrangements on the decidedly Talking Heads-ish ‘Stillness is the Move’ and the jagged ‘Temecula Sunrise’ are positively mind-boggling, with Coffman and Deradoorian’s jarring shrieks and flutters melting and merging into the most unlikely of harmonies. The stumbling fingerpicked guitar motif, swooping orchestral coda and lush vocal sweep of ‘Two Doves’, and the acrobatic guitars and underlaid groove of ‘No Intention’, make for further highlights.

But the gorgeous ‘Useful Chamber’ would have to be the record’s centrepiece. Opening with a celestial synth groove housing Longstreth’s most pared back piece of vocalisation on the record, the song warps into a fingerpicked guitar line, buckles into an unadorned break beat, then explodes into a flash of searing rock. It’s a beauty and maelstrom all at once, and as such, says a lot about Bitte Orca.

Its language may seem wildly complex at first, but Bitte Orca proves remarkably simple at its core. Longtreth has crafted a set of genuinely beautiful songs. What makes them different is the fact that he has afforded himself the scope to throw absolutely everything – every bell, every bellow and every whistle – at each and every one of them, often all at once.

Dan Rule

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