Dirty Projectors’ self-titled is the latest in a long line of reinvention
When Dirty Projectors returned with “Keep Your Name” five months ago, the song was met with some confusion. Its video featured a healthy dose of David Longstreth brooding for the camera, but the rest of the band was nowhere to be found. Some began to wonder if the project had retreated to its more solo-centric roots, and soon after its release, a screenshot of some liner notes confirmed that suspicion. Hell, the first thing you hear is wedding bells and the line “I don’t know why you abandoned me.” It was clear we were in for an entirely different beast this time around, but for longtime fans, a complete rehaul of the band’s sound and ethos comes with the territory.
This is, by far, Dirty Projector’s most heavily-produced record yet. The aforementioned “Keep Your Name” kicks off the set, and with its painstakingly arranged, R&B-inflected arrangement, it’s a strong indication of what’s to follow. There’s a noticeable emphasis on keyboards this time around, but as on previous records, Longstreth brings in an eclectic range of instrumentation to create the warped, moody world of Dirty Projectors. You can expect everything from bass clarinet to flugelhorn to pop up here, sometimes only for a moment, but the sum is always more important than its parts. “Keep Your Name” proceeds the frantic, funky “Death Spiral” and the long-winded, fable-like “Up In Hudson.” The latter recounts the origins of his relationship with former Projectors vocalist Amber Coffman, the central figure around which the album orbits. Beginning at a leisurely pace and building to a drum circle-esque jam, its plain-spoken, crib note verses help shape the album’s narrative.
The significant departure from art rock to heartbroken R&B may seem abrupt at first, but upon closer listen, you can hear the seeds of a lot of what’s at play here in previous efforts. Touching ballad “Ascent Through Clouds” feels like a companion to Bitte Orca’s “Two Doves”, while fantastic single “Cool Your Heart” sports the infectious, skipping drums of “See What She’s Seeing” and the pop appeal of “Stillness Is The Move.” Closing track “I See You,” on the other hand, takes on an almost gospel-like quality, but just as you start to forget who you’re listening to, Longstreth’s singular lead guitar returns to remind you.
Since the project’s inception, the only certain thing about Dirty Projectors has been the uncertainty of what will come next. Through the years and through changing lineups, Longstreth has run the gamut from lo-fi oddball folk to a complete reimagining of a Rise Against record, but his signature touch has always remained constant. Dirty Projectors continues that trend, and it’s one that’s not liable to change any time soon.