Swing Lo Magellan is both surprising and expected. Huh? We would only begin a review of a Dirty Projectors’ album with a connundrum. David Longstreth’s smorgasbord of influences for this album, including The Bible, Lil Wayne¹, Neil Young, and Guy Debord’s 1967 Society of the Spectacle, are seemingly an inspirational connundrum. If you’ll recall our review of their previous album, Bitte Orca, this should be expected:
David Longstreth, the founding member of Dirty Projectors, has been making gorgeous, if slightly strange, albums with a string of extremely talented co-members since 2002. In 2005, The Getty Address, was a concept album about Don Henley (for real), while 2007’s Rise Above was a collection of Black Flag songs that Longstreth put together from memory (for real). Bitte Orca is the Projector’s most self-contained, accessible work to date. As a whole, the album focuses on beautiful vocal harmonies and intricate guitar accompaniments for which the band has become known.
But if Bitte Orca was the most tangible album to date because of its vocal harmonies, Swing Lo Magellan is surprisingly the most tangible because of its instrumentals. The album is stripped (for the most part) of Longstreth’s mastery of polyrhythmic layering. Album opener “Offspring Are Blank” begins with just humming and a metronome. “Gun Has No Trigger” is a radio friendly track (for real),² with a straightforward doo wop beat, backing “oohs,” and Longstreth’s singing. Don’t mistake simplicity for blandness. There are plenty of Dirty-Projectors-subtleties to tickle your audiophile fancies: the orchestral bridge from a handclap rhythm on “Dance For You,” the late Beatles’ undertones of “Maybe That Was It,” or the R&B themed “The Socialite” with its Third Encounters of the Third Kind notes.
It should be noted that this is Longstreth’s intention. In an interview with the The New York Times, he explained “‘These are songs without any context,” and continued “They’re less about arrangement. They’re less about orchestration.” It’s possible this is the first record Dirty Projectors fans can play to non-fans without the preface, “I love them, but you’re probably not going to like them because they’re…different.” There may not be a thematic story line, but for all the aforementioned structural characteristics, Swing Lo Magellan is a wonderful, unique listen to be repeated and shared over and over again.
¹The fact that you’re reading this means you too thought it was quite off that Lil Wayne followed The Bible.
²And you thought Bitte Orca was an anomaly. Longstreth can write hits! Shout out to Eve Cohen.