The Dirty Projectors are the new art-pop standard bearers
Do you remember that David Byrne solo record, the one that made you realize “yeah, this guy WAS the Talking Heads”? The one that made you forget Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz?
Probably not. Because, over the course of his solo career, Byrne has generated some solid efforts – but nothing approaching what he did with his former band.
If he could have pulled it off, it might sound something like what The Dirty Projectors are doing these days, including what might be the year’s best record, Swing Lo, Magellan. The band showcased the new album, along with a number of songs from 2009’s “breakthrough” Bitte Orca, and a handful of songs from prior albums on July 25th at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.
An enthusiastic crowd was provided an amazing show from what is becoming one of the (if not THE) best young bands in terms of taking studio wizardry and replicating (perhaps surpassing it) live. The sound at the Crystal Ballroom (often times a negative) was spot on, and the band seemed to feed off everything (including a hot summer day spent diving into “lackamas creek” [sic]), leading to a surprising (and “pretentious”, Longstreth joked with the crowd) second encore. The special vibe could have also harkened back to Longstreth’s time spent living with his brother Jack in Portland, where he recorded the (defacto) Dirty Projector debut record, The Graceful Fallen Mango.
Longstreth (and company, for the record) is creating music that is Soweto-by-way-of-SOHO. An unapologetic Head’s fan (DP and Byrne collaborated for the stand out “Knotty Pine” on the solid “Dark Was the Night” AIDS benefit compilation), Longstreth continues to channel African sounds and rhythms through eclectic American pop sensibilities. It’s what Paul Simon’s Graceland might have sounded like had it been introduced to NYC’s downtown noise scene from the late 70’s.
So, when Longstreth recently lost Angel Deradoorian (and her angelic voice, no pun intended…), he did what he should have; return to placing himself up front, highlighting his superior songwriting talents, touch upon some of what he’s associated with (female choruses scattered throughout, but not to the the degree of Bitte Orca). Longstreth also hints at Bob Dylan (another acknowledged influence; DP covered Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” for the Levi’s Pioneer project) on songs like the title track. Add to the record’s solid musicianship, and some genuinely comic moments, and you have some of Longstreth’s best work – which is saying a lot, considering he’s in the top five young American songwriters.
It’s interesting that David Byrne is now working with St. Vincent (ne Annie Clark); could this have been influenced by the DP’s, who are Brooklyn contemporaries? The Byrne/St. Vincent single “Who” (off their upcoming album, to be released in September) is very good, and is a positive sign. But then listen to the DP’s horn-inflected “Unto Caesar”, an arguably stronger tune.
So, even with the band’s lineup changes, it should be abundantly clear that Longstreth is in charge (though vocalist/guitarist Amber Hoffman would have no problem surpassing the Tom Tom Club), and hopefully those along for the ride can celebrate being a part of some fantastic records.