Photo via spin.com
David Longstreth’s first single on his new album, conspicuously titled “Keep Your Name,” samples a previous Dirty Projectors song, “Impregnable Question.” This self-referential decision turns Longstreth’s earlier declaration of love on its head. He once sang, “We don’t see eye to eye/ but I need you and you’re always on my mind.” Now, they just do not see eye to eye. It fits well into the story Longstreth wants to tell: Amber Coffman left him, and she took her guitar and her voice with her. At least he kept Dirty Projectors for himself.
It sounds like there is trouble brewing in Brooklyn when Longstreth sings, “What I want from art is truth/ what you want is fame/ so we’ll keep ‘em separate/ and you’ll keep your name.” Is this the voiced aching of a spurned lover, or a requiem for the lost fantasies of an art student? Either way, it’s hard to turn attention away from the possibly problematic gender politics of the song.
The single drew attention to the album, just as conspicuously titled Dirty Projectors, a breakup album for the post-rock star era. The album came out last Friday, and a first listen reveals Coffman’s pronounced absence from the new sound. As a listener, it is much easier to mourn her missing arpeggios than the publicized melodrama of two pop stars. In other words, I do not know how much Longstreth helps his case with aggrandizing statements like: “All I have is my love of love/ but now you wanna blow us up/ You’re so rock ‘n’ roll suicidal.” The multiple references to Kanye West, and 808s in particular, seem all too close to the mark.
There are moments on the album when Longstreth channels his melancholia into writing outside of the breakup album convention. The result is refreshing, especially during the seven minute song “Up In Hudson,” which might be the most successful track on the album. Throughout the song, Longstreth offers an unconventional narration of his love affair with Coffman, sticky with millennial jargon: “And we both had girl- and boyfriends blowing us up SMS.” The beat of the song breaks from the conventions of most of the guitar-based music from Dirty Projectors in the past: you can just picture Longstreth composing this song, and a good portion of the album, from the confines of his bedroom. Again, Longstreth makes explicit references to the Dirty Projectors discography, including a mention of his writing “Stillness Is the Move” for Coffman.
Dirty Projectors has always been a project obsessed with pushing the limits of acceptable sounds in popular music. Songs like the aforementioned “Stillness Is the Move” and “Impregnable Question” whisk syncopated rhythms together with intonational imperfections and unexpected melodic decisions on the way to baking something that is both jarring and tasty. This unconventional recipe has satisfied in the past, but there are more than a few times where Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors feels like it is starting to burn. In the final track, “I See You,” for instance, Longstreth pairs a crash heavy beat with a lagging organ fugue. The effect is not satisfactory.
It almost makes you wonder if he is missing a few ingredients.