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by Alex V. Cook
Music Editor
originally published: July, 2009

The final frontier might just be talent!

The final frontier might just be talent!


story by Alex V. Cook
Music Editor
originally published: July, 2009

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

The title above is actually not true; the kids love Dirty Projectors to pieces. They packed the generally semi-deserted local to personally express that love and fawn over the merch table. I saw people buying both vinyl and cassette copies of Bitte Orca, their recent highly beloved current record, perhaps to tread home to recreate their love via outdated media with copious other lovers. There will be retro hi-fi Dirty Projectors orgies going down all about town. Right now, it seems, everybody loves Dirty Projectors.

I love them too, but I like to love things that are hard to love, a bracket in which I would put this group were there mass lovability not an indisputable reality. I looked around the club and thought, "Y'all usually love such stupid things! How did you latch on to this?" Are they really that good? Are they the indie rock Chuck Yeagers, daring to finally break the taste barrier? To test their empirical lovability, I ran them by a critic that has no stock in casting avant-garde ideas in a pop context, or feels no joy in comparing David Longstreth's guitar with African players. Someone who just likes a song or just doesn't and that person, my 8-year old daughter in this case, hated Bitte Orca, immediately and conclusively. I tried to keep up with her derision through Facebook updates.

Alex:  Daughter said she'd like Dirty Projectors if they were "soothing, or maybe entertaining" then shouted to the stereo "I'm not impressed!"

That is quite a visceral reaction, maybe a little over-dramatized for my amusement but truthfully, I feel the same way inside. As much as I recognize all the effort Longstreth went through to create this most singular music, after a whole record I start to feel fatigued, that this is an endurance test that I am slowly failing. I will say that I haven't actually yelled that sentiment at the speakers; just rolled my eyes and sighed a little.

I appreciate in every context of the word that high art does not have entertainment as its prime motivator and I do think what they do is high art. The group acts more as a highly specialized chamber music troop than a rock band, and I really like that idea. The final frontier might just be talent! The problem is: a great chamber music program varies up the composers as to not bare the intellectual meshes in which the magic is captured. Dirty Projectors is highly idiosyncratic and strongly typed music, nakedly demonstrating the effort that goes into it. Halfway through Bitte Orca, I feel a little like saying, "OK, I get it."

Alex:  More from daughter on Dirty Projectors: they should use violins and make pretty song instead of "cool" ones (with air quotes).

This is what I generally dismiss as a peanut gallery complaint: they don't write normal, pretty songs because it's not what they do. Plenty of others are fully engaged in that activity, freeing creative souls to explore the Other.

But she has a point; there is an aggressive air to how they go about things. I don't really mean the indifferent sneer that people perceive from arty types; they are more personable than that. Live, they ripple, sweaty and grinning through the wild algebra of their music.  There is no barrier, no artifice veiling their methods and maybe that is the source of friction. To taste sushi this fresh, we are forced to watch them clean the fish, and generally we don't like to do that.

Alex:  She concedes a bit on Dirty Projectors: it's a little pretty when just the girls sing.

This comment is referring to "Stillness is a Move" the Beyoncé- infused, shuddering Dirty Projectors version of an R&B rump shaker. Amber Coffman is called from her postmodern Andrew Sisters position in the band  to get her soul diva on, a thing she does with acuity on record and with dazzling power live.

The schism between the pop appeal of "Stillness" and the rest of the album's heady ardor makes me wonder if the song is a conciliatory move, or maybe an ironic one, seeing the simple pleasures as a viable but, in their case, less preferable way to do things. None of these things mattered to my daughter; as soon as the girly moments passed, she wandered off to do something in her room, something "entertaining" perhaps, leaving me to enjoy/endure what might be the album of the year on whatever terms I need to do so.

Listen on

The photo of Dirty Projectors plying their wares under the gaze of Aretha Franklin at Chelsea's Cafe in Baton Rouge was taken by the author.

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v

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