In the 10 years since they began, his experimental art-rock troupe Dirty Projectors have written albums that almost need a pointy stick and a flipchart to be fully explained. 2005’s The Getty Address, for example, was a “glitch opera” about the life of the Eagles’ Don Henley, while 2007’s Rise Above was an attempt to cover – from memory – Black Flag’s Damaged, an album Longstreth hadn’t listened to for nearly 15 years.
Though Swing Lo Magellan’s themes are less overt, the story of Dirty Projectors’ sixth album is still irregular and intriguing. Tired of the “density” of Brooklyn, Longstreth relocated his band – minus the “on hiatus” bassist/vocalist Angel Deradoorian – to a long-abandoned house in upstate Delaware County.
The result is an album that is far less-crowded than previous works (in his own words, Longstreth’s aim here is to veer away from the “florid arrangements” of 2009’s Bitte Orca) and one that, on the whole, feels suitably bucolic.
For instance, the title track, with its gentle acoustic guitar and butterfly melody, may be the most straightforward folk song the band has ever written. Longstreth himself appears more relaxed; single Gun Has No Trigger retains his penchant for complex melody, but without going off at an agitated and inaccessible tangent.
This time around, with Deradoorian absent, it’s up to the harmonies of Amber Coffman to enhance Longstreth’s extraordinary voice. She makes particular impact on the piano-led Impregnable Question as a foil to an uncharacteristically vulnerable frontman – the line “I need you, and you are always on my mind” suggests he’s found some quiet contemplation in the countryside. She takes the mic herself for The Socialites: a sunny, out-of-town perspective on the social snobbery of the city they’ve left behind.
Of course, despite the feeling of rural serenity, there’s still room for some of Dirty Projectors’ clever-clever stuff, too. After all, only Longstreth could write a chirruping homage to a Leo Tolstoy novella, and still call it About to Die.
His imagination, it seems, has never been so fertile.
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