Recorded across one year and 40 demos, The Dirty Projector's SWING LO MAGELLAN has made its way out of the studio. Written, arranged, mixed, produced, by David Longstreth, this album was meant to be more personal and eclectic than previous releases. Strangely, this album feels more complete than others (even 2009's very good BITTE ORCA), while maintaining Longstreth's promise that these songs wouldn't be united by a single theme or style.
The Dirty Projectors is a band that is constantly experimenting with its own sound. This album is no different, but it feels much looser than past releases. Where other albums felt conscious about the experimentation that was taking place, SWING LO MAGELLAN feels much less thought out; instead, many of the vocal flares and instrumental flourishes sound improvised or instinctual. It feels less like Longstreth is trying to be interesting and more like he's having fun writing music. The second half of the album doesn't quite live up to the fantastic first half of SWING LO MAGELLAN; "The Socialites," doesn't have a good enough melody to support itself. "Unto Caesar" and its dragging strings slow the song down to a crawl. "Irresponsible Tune," while an interesting choice to finish the album, doesn't meet their rest of the album's emotional heights.
Stylistically, this album is all over the place. The ripping guitar riff that interrupts quiet intro track "Offspring Are Blank" could have come out of Fugazi. The go-for-broke vocals in "About to Die" and "Unto Caesar" are reminiscent of Animal Collective. The rhythmic meter and crooning of "See What You're Seeing" recalls a great Hot Chip track. The closing track "Irresponsible Tune" wouldn't sound too out of place in a collection of recent Neil Young acoustics. SWING LO MAGELLAN covers plenty of musical ground, and while I use other bands for stylistic references, the Dirty Projectors are uniquely their own.
For listeners that are new to the Dirty Projectors, this album is a great one to start with: it's consistent, and it feels like a good summation of everything the band has worked on until now. For those who are familiar with Longstreth and company, SWING LO MAGELLAN is a great addition to the band's already good discography, but some listeners might mourn to the absence of Angel Deradoorian. Fans of the Talking Heads, Animal Collective, Hot Chip, or the Shins will find material here to like. Standout songs to sample/download: "Gun Has No Trigger," "About to Die," and "Impregnable Question." These songs will give listeners an idea of what to expect for the band's musical style, but it's not representative of everything SWING LO MAGELLAN has to offer.
Overall, if you have been put off by the Dirty Projector's quirky sensibilities in the past, you can probably pass on this. If, however, you're looking for an interesting album that has plenty of nuance to pour over, SWING LO MAGELLAN is a great listen.
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