Experimental indie intellectuals Dirty Projectors, led by Yale music grad David Longstreth, will return on July 10 with Swing Low Magellan, the much-anticipated follow-up to their 2009 breakout, Bitte Orca. Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn's hipster ground zero and the band's home turf, clearly has reason to celebrate. Especially considering "Gun Has No Trigger," the eerily gorgeous first taste from the LP, which definitely backs up Longstreth's comments to me last year. Listen to the song below.
So, last year, while I was still working at SPIN, I had a long chat with Longstreth, who was holed up at an old house in rural Delaware County, New York, where he was writing, recording, producing and mixing the album. He said that the other band members -- Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle, Nat Baldwin, and Brian McOmber -- would occasionally drop in to help with the LP (Angel Deradoorian is "on hiatus" from the band, says a press release). But he worked on it mostly alone, in the woods in the dead of winter. That, he said, got a little creepy and it expressed itself on the LP.
"A lot of the songs are about horror or fear," he said. "It just didn't feel right to be making this super exuberant music. It might just be that I was up here in the fucking winter when it was light three hours a day and there's three feet of snow on the ground."
The 12-track album includes "About to Die," which Longstreth said sounds similar to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." "It's like a monster song, except the monster is the looming specter of meaninglessness and existential nausea," he said. "It's actually a really funny song." The "horror" and "fear" theme also surfaces in a track called "Terror Vast."
The title track "Swing Low Magellan" is inspired by Longstreth's hate of "a GPS our manager gave me when I first moved up here," and "there's a song that's a response to the Strokes' 'Is This It?'" he said. "It's called 'Maybe That Was It.'"
So. Full disclosure: I'm not a Dirty Projectors fans. Or at least I wasn't. I found Bitte Orca's complicated melodies and overwrought arrangements frankly annoying and at war with my rock n' roll ideals; I usually subscribe to a 'the simpler the better' approach; I love pure emotion and stripped down choruses played with abandon by kids who can't read music, let alone write it with skill, like Longstreth.
But I started to come around on April 8, 2009, when Dirty Projectors and Bjork teamed up for a special performance at Housing Works Book Store in the Soho 'hood of New York City. They performed the 20-minute benefit release Mount Wittenberg Orca, and while Longstreth's Spanish guitar playing was on point, it was the vocals of the three ladies of DP that drew me in. They sounded angelic. It was a memorable night (booty dancing with Bjork in the penthouse of a glass hotel, where she DJ'd for the after party, certainly helped that...) and I decided to give the DPs another chance.
Enter "Gun Has No Trigger." In my opinion, this is their best song yet. When I spoke to Longstreth last year there was one quote that stuck with me: "In general, this [new] album is much less about color and arrangements," he explained. "It's heading in the direction of Mount Wittenberg Orca in terms of stripping things back a little bit." That certainly boded well with me.
"Gun Has No Trigger" is much simpler; instead of winding, complicated-to-the-point-of-a-headache guitar lines, it grooves on head-bouncing drum and bass (think Portishead) and layers of those angelic female vocals. It's just gorgeous, and there's not a single guitar note played in its three minutes and 24 seconds. "You hold a gun to your head like it has no trigger," Longstreth sings. This is a welcome new direction for a band that I didn't care for just 20 minutes ago.
Listen to "Gun Has No Trigger" below. Like it? I do. Tell me what you think in the comments.