June 01, 2006

The Dirty Projectors "New Attitude"

Dirty Projectors auteur Dave Longstreth is a refreshing rarity: an art-rock savant whose talent exceeds his quirkiness, instead of vice versa. Last year's opus The Getty Address was a self-described “glitch opera” about a man who becomes one with nature while trucking across the country. It sounded like you'd imagine it would: dense choral and orchestral arrangements run through the digital shredder, only to have the pieces haphazardly scattered all over funky drum programming. Granted, there was no good reason for Longstreth to name the main character after Don Henley, especially considering that the lyrics had no other Eagles reference. Why quibble, though, when the music was so consistently catchy and innovative? You've got to be doing something right if Prefuse 73's Scott Herren gives you props.

The Getty Address is a pretty tough record to follow --- and, wisely, the new Dirty Projectors EP doesn't even try. Instead, New Attitude performs a different, yet equally Herculean task: summarizing every stylistic detour that Longstreth has taken over the last four years into a compact half-hour's worth of music.

The first two songs (“Fucked for Life” and “Two Sheep Asleep”) are cut from the mold of 2003's acoustic The Glad Fact. Longstreth sings atop a bed of meandering bass lines, slightly out-of-tune acoustic guitars and strategically placed hand claps and percussion. The latter song is a hootenanny in which he grunts and yodels like a blues singer on Prozac.

Two other songs are cut from the mold of 2004's Slaves' Graves and Ballads, for which Longstreth composed songs for an eight-piece orchestra. The new songs are played by a string quartet consisting of two cellos and two double basses. On “Likeness of Uncles,” the quartet's slow, rumbling drones make the song sound like an RCA Red Seal recording played at 16 RPM. The amazing “Darkened Car” is slightly less ominous. The cellos play in a higher register, and Longstreth delivers his most expressive vocals yet. His warbling falsetto punctuates crucial lines with the kind of melismatic runs you'd normally expect from an R&B singer.

I repeat, “Darkened Car” is AMAZING.

“Imagine It” and “Katy at the Mall” are songs in the “glitch opera” style of The Getty Address. The second half of “Katy” is particularly impressive. Whiplash snares and staccato keyboards fight for space as a lone female voice sings about going to the mall on a snowy day. As good as these songs are, they're also the EP's most predictable.

New Attitude
's biggest surprise comes on the eight-minute live recording “Two Young Sheep.” On the tour that Longstreth did to support The Getty Address, he was backed by an eight-piece band that managed to recreate that album's chopped-up, disorienting arrangements perfectly with “real” instruments. On this song, though, they lay down a shockingly fluid Afro-beat groove in which a flute nimbly dances around dueling keyboards. Longstreth plays the role of Fela, engaging the audience in brief call-and-response sessions when he's not yelling the song's sole lyric: “Precious reciprocity/Two sheep asleep silently.”

Although this EP was initially released on 12-inch vinyl, those of you with turntables need not fear. Every copy of New Attitude comes with a CD of the same songs. Even if it didn't, I'd recommend buying it and listening to it on someone else's turntable. “Darkened Car” alone is worth DOUBLE the price!

Artist Website: www.westernvinyl.com/dirty_projectors.htm
Label Website: www.marriagerecs.com

P.S. No, seriously. “Darkened Car” is really amazing.

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