Featured Album of the Week Review: Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan (Out 7/10/12 on Domino Records)
Going into Swing Lo Magellan, I have to say that I am pretty excited. I've been telling Mike Nigro here at Graffiti Radio how much I like the single "Gun Has No Trigger", and any band that can make a single this catchy and unique is going to make a great album. ...right?
Swing Lo Magellan is good, I want to start with that. For the most part it flows well and has really solid production (for what they were going for), and I actually really like Dave Longstreth's vocals. In fact, the only thing that irks me about this album is I feel Dirty Projectors could have done more. I feel bad faulting an album for this, but I distinctly remember back in my 8th grade art class I drew easily the best picture of a flower (in not only the class but probably my entire life), but I got a B+ because the teacher said “I could have done better”. So guess what, I’m allowed to say “you could have done better” too.
I'll start with all the positives, and quite frankly there are a lot. There are songs on this album that are absolutely incredible. As someone who writes music, I truly could never write songs like some of the ones found on here. I'm just not clever enough. The chord progressions, how the songs surprise you with where they started and where they end up, the tones of guitars, all of these things are brilliant. The opener, "Offspring are Bleak", and even "Gun Has No Trigger" are prime examples of this. They are weird, haunting, and yet rock all at the same time. Hats off to them.
There is also this great old-timey-pop-rock feel many of the songs have. It's like if the beach boys were really into David Lynch and were the cool kind of hipsters. Simple drum beats drive many of the songs, and uniquely it’s the vocal work of the two female vocalists that act in place of the rhythm guitar section much of the time, and it works. But don't let me calling Dirty Projectors indie-pop make you think there aren't their signature weird tracks too. “See What She Seeing” is quite out there, but to balance the strangeness of the guitar and the drumbeat, there is a rather straight forward string section that, coupled with Dave Longstreth's vocals, keeps the song grounded and make it a very interesting listen.
But as I said, with a few tweaks here and there, the album could have been granted uber status. Swing Lo Magellan suffers from a lack of energy as the album progresses. We start off with such great songs that have that signature Projector's weirdness without any drag, but about two-thirds through there are songs that come across as weird just for the sake of being weird. “Maybe That was It” and “The Socialites” are prime examples of this. These tracks are either just plain boring with nothing to keep the listener engaged, or so weird that the last thing I want to do as a listener is keep listening. This is not good when your medium is music. I’m by no means against experimentation or using surreal elements as a tool to create your art, but art shouldn’t be strange for the sake of being strange. Throwing together the strangest sounds you can find does not make you a genius or make a good song.
In short, my advice to the band is don’t start off an album with your own twist on indie-pop and then decide it’s time to take your audience through a surreal nightmare. Original and different? Maybe. Good songwriting that I’m itching to listen to? I don’t think so.
Overall though, I did enjoy the album. When Dirty Projectors are on, my god are they on. But when they are off, I’m sad to say it hurts the album. However regardless of the faults, I'll definitely be returning to this one, if only to get inspired by hearing something you don’t hear every day.