Album review: Dirty Projectors' 'Swing Lo Magellan'

Photo by Jason Frank Rothenberg

Accessibility has never seemed like a primary concern of Dirty Projectors leader David Longstreth, who scrambles after his musical vision with an intensity that can look single-minded. And yet “Swing Lo Magellan” (Domino), Dirty Projectors’ seventh LP, manages to balance the Yale alumnus’ more outre experimental tendencies with some of the band’s most inviting songs. (Listen via The New York Times.)

“Inviting” is a relative term, of course: the Katy Perry faithful aren’t likely to switch their allegiance, but then Dirty Projectors has never sought that sort of mass-culture commercial catchet anyway. All the same, some of these dozen songs — many, in fact — are downright catchy, full of handclaps, chiming guitars and the towering, prismatic layers of female vocals that have become a band trademark.

Still, it’s a complex record. The swift-flowing “Just From Chevron” slides around on slippery guitar until it runs abruptly into a tangled knot of arpeggios and dense rhythm, while opener “Offspring Are Blank” interrupts the main theme — Longstreth crooning a melody over wordless vocals and trunk-rattling bass — with roaring blasts of electric guitar and, once, a quick ’70s-influenced acoustic guitar break.

It’s also very beat-driven: shifting jumbles of rhythm complicate “About to Die” while Longstreth engages in a call and response with the female chorus singing the refrain, and percussion skitters beneath elongated synths on “See What She Seeing.”

Despite all the intricacies here, there are a few more direct tunes. The single “Gun Has No Trigger” rides a jumpy, implacable beat as Longstreth steers the hypnotic melody into a cathartic crescendo, while the title track is a sweet, lilting acoustic number perfect for a summer day. Then there’s “Impregnable Question,” perhaps the starkest, most emotionally bare song Longstreth has released so far: he sings with simple passion, and without affect, backed by a soul-ready bassline and gentle piano chords.

It’s a different side of Longstreth, one offering compelling evidence of the heart that beats beneath all those layers of sound.

— Eric R. Danton

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