Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan

July 17th, 2012

Released by Domino Records, July 10, 2012

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We’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the latest Dirty Projectors album since we heard rumours of its existence back in March. While the band is nothing if not prolific – having recorded nearly an album a year throughout the 2000s –it’s been two years since they last released new material, and we could hardly wait to hear what experimental sounds and unique arrangements would be celebrated in their latest effort. The result, Swing Lo Magellan, is a bit of a departure for the high-concept band and easily the most accessible record in their catalogue. We’ve become accustomed to deconstructing a Dirty Projectors’ album with the same intensity and scrutiny that you might approach a work of fiction by James Joyce; bubblegum pop this is not. Yet upon an initial listen it is immediately apparent that Swing Lo Magellan is a different beast. With its pleasing harmonies and thumping beats the album is immensely likable and is quickly becoming an indispensible component of our summer of 2012 soundtrack.

While the Dirty Projectors have been criticized for creating songs that are overworked bordering on contrived, Swing Lo Magellan has an easy and free sensibility; it sounds spontaneous and improvised, all without losing what makes the band’s albums so compelling. There may be moments on the record that sound more like conventional pop music than what we’ve heard from them before, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve abandoned their signature experimentation and dense compositions. Frontman David Longstreth, whose focus and intensity is the stuff of legends and who is known to hole himself up for weeks while working on new material with nothing more than pasta for sustenance, has crafted an album that seamlessly fuses the strange and complex with quite beautiful and accessible melodies.

The opening track on the album, “Offspring Are Blank,” unites a melodic if slightly odd harmony, featuring Longstreth’s signature vocals, with a buoyant, energetic chorus that inspires a visceral reaction in the listener. The layering of the sounds on this track – which includes everything from hand clapping and humming to lengthy ooohs and aaahs and electric guitar riffs – is the Dirty Projectors at their most captivating. “Gun Has No Trigger,” one of our favourite songs on the album, is a pared down, less complex composition, which allows Longstreth’s clear vocals and incisive lyrics to really shine. One of the most experimental songs on Swing Lo Magellan, “Maybe That Was It,” is reminiscent of the Dirty Projectors’ earlier albums with its lack of a discernable harmony or consistent beat. It’s the type of song that demands prolonged attention to unravel the intricate arrangement and confounding lyrics.

While Swing Lo Magellan may be a less coherent statement both musically and lyrically than some of the band’s previous releases, the fact that each song is so unique and takes you in an entirely different direction makes listening to the album a transcendental experience. If you look past the quirks and eccentricities that are the Dirty Projectors’ trademark, Swing Lo Magellan is in essence an extremely enjoyable and entertaining pop album. With its haunting melodies and passionate lyrics, the album is an emotional tour de force and easily one of the best releases of the year.

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