Longstreth brings all his dauntingly cerebral compositional versatility to bear.
Chris White 2009
Just who is David Longstreth, the driving force behind Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors? Is he the front man of a quintessential New York art pop band, or a hitherto undiscovered Malian bluesman, or even the latest chart friendly R&B producer?
On the band's fifth collection, Bitte Orca, Longstreth adopts all three of these guises - within the space of the first four tracks. What's more, he manages to pull it off. Anyone familiar with the earlier works of Dirty Projectors, which include a choral and orchestral tribute to Don Henley of the Eagles and an entire album of Black Flag cover versions, won't exactly be surprised by this idiosyncratic, freewheeling approach, but the music here is also surprisingly tuneful and accessible.
Very few artists completely defy classification, but Yale graduate Longstreth brings all his dauntingly cerebral compositional versatility to bear on Bitte Orca to make it pretty damn near impossible. It's difficult to think of another performer who could follow Stillness Is The Move, featuring singer Amber Coffman warbling like a Mariah-style diva over a funky hip hop beat, with Two Doves, a sombre, string-laden ballad which could be a long lost Nico recording, and then the complex Krautrock rhythms of the title track.
The one ubiquitous ingredient throughout Bitte Orca is Longstreth's endlessly inventive guitar playing. Like fellow Brooklynites Vampire Weekend, he's clearly a fan of African tunings and styles, which are a key influence on most of the songs here, but, often within the space of the same solo, he'll suddenly surprise us with a crunching hard rock riff. As a singer he's a little less impressive, but still offers an effective focal point for the ethereal Coffman and Angel Deradoorian to weave their intricate vocal harmonies around, which they do throughout the record with beguiling results.
From The Velvet Underground through to Patti Smith and David Byrne, the Big Apple has always excelled at producing boundary challenging musical mavericks. Dirty Projectors may never reach quite the same heights of popular acclaim as those lofty names, but Longstreth and his band are nevertheless worthy successors to their proud tradition.