The Funeral of Dirty Projectors
“The projection has faded away and in its place, I see you”
There have been some wild assumptions of how this new Dirty Projectors record would turn out. After teasing listeners with “Keep Your Name” in late 2016, fans feverishly submitted opinions based on the eccentric and strange experimentation David Longstreth was offering. The only problem with these conclusions is that Dirty Projectors have always been experimental. Their music has never been by the books and a step away from the regressive white male indie scene that hit its peak in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Artists like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and The National were at the top of their artistic ventures by making easy-to-digest, cozy albums that could appeal to the masses. Dirty Projectors never made that record and even with this new one, it still misses that mark that the Internet has claimed it to be.
From the start, Dirty Projectors were an experimental, art rock project helmed by Longstreth with in-and-out support from fellow musicians. The band’s lineup was a shifting entity that didn’t hit its stride until the one-two punch of Rise Above and Bitte Orca. While Rise Above did not connect to a large group of listeners, Bitte Orca made it big with the single “Stillness Is The Move” and a gracious 9.2 score from music journalism juggernauts Pitchfork. Bitte Orca is a massive album that is in no way conventional or concise. It holds no solid ground and sways uncontrollably in a giddy chaos. That’s what makes Dirty Projectors so enjoyable. Their brand of unpredictability has always challenged listeners to keep up with their latest concoctions and follow the breadcrumb trail to the next sweet reward.
After Swing Lo Magellan in 2012, the fate of Dirty Projectors remained silent for a few years. When news broke that Dave and Amber Coffman (one of the group’s main vocal contributors) had broken up, critics turned to the obvious by making the new album seem like an attack on love and a depressing look at Longstreth’s feelings. While this is partially true, the self-titled album is much more than that. Dirty Projectors is a retrospective on the group’s career and a personal reflection of the accomplishments they achieved with their insane knack for art pop. While a lot of the moments on this new album are experimental and alien to many indie listeners, do not take this as a reason to pin the record to other experimental acts. Yes, we know that Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver have both recently dabbled in electronica and choppy production but these are not grounds for comparison. Dirty Projectors are above these artists because they are the elders. Since 2003, Dirty Projectors have been ahead of the curve and have been innovating a sound that cannot be described with one sentence.
On the album itself, do not say it is the saddest thing they’ve done. Yes, some of the lyrics are heartbreaking and probably mean a lot to Dave, but let’s take an example from their 2007 song “Depression”: “There’s no girls, there’s no girls, there’s no girls that wanna touch me get away I don’t need your fucking sympathy / Depression is gonna kill me tonight”. Oh my god, that’s really serious. Yet these lyrics are sung with a feverish passion along with peppy backing vocals and a sporadic guitar melody to mask the graphic lyrics. The same album has a song titled “Thirsty and Miserable” so Dirty Projectors are no stranger to the low points of life. Also, don’t say that this a petty exercise. People have explained that Dave will regret making this new album in 5 or 10 years because he is simply just grieving his loss and not looking at the bigger picture. Are breakup albums not worth the effort? Do they become stale overtime? I feel like Dirty Projectors will hold up in 10 years. Does Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago still hold up? That album is 10 years old now and just because Justin Vernon recorded a folk album in a cabin to get over a breakup doesn’t mean that David Longstreth can’t do something similar. This is art and the artist can decide how they portray it to the audience. Sure, we may not have Amber’s side of the story but Dirty Projectors is David’s testament of life. It’s an examination of life at its most fundamental question: what is the point? David reflects on his life and tries to see where things went wrong and where they went right. He sees the joy in his shared kisses with Amber and the pain in knowing that nothing lasts forever. David has come to terms with reality and has embraced the fact that he only has one life to live.
A lot of critics and listeners will call Dirty Projectors a strange departure from the band’s previous work or an extremely sad indie album. I say that Dirty Projectors is a funeral for the thoughts and feelings of David Longstreth as a person and as a founding member of a successful musical group. The album does not merit comparisons, yet it will. I have already name-dropped several other artists. What I am trying to get at is that Dirty Projectors is the grand finale in a twisted, insane production that has never stopped being thrilling and intriguing.