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Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan
It is next to impossible to define the sound of the Dirty Projectors. As soon as one tries to put their finger on any sort of genre or sound, it will have already transformed itself - either sonically or lyrically – into something else entirely.
For David Longstreth, the songwriting genius behind the Dirty Projectors, combining filthy lyrical imagery, Mariah Carey vocals, a classical brass section, indie rock ethics, minimal techno, Wizard of Oz duets, and hip-hop beats, is a seemingly effortless task.
Over the past decade, Longstreth has released over ten LPs and EPs, all which prove that his band is everything that Dave Matthews Band and the Magnetic Fields try to be – witty, daring, intelligent, honest, weird; in other words, different. Swing Lo Magellan, maintains that tradition, though in a somewhat more welcomed and accessible way.
However, Swing Lo is still bizarrely weird. While for the first time the majority of songs are built around verse/chorus song structures - and it feels as if Longstreth has tried to keep his experimentation bound to structure - every song still sounds like a musical experiment in itself.
The Dirty Projectors are a band of six who are more or less based in Brooklyn, New York. However, in ten years the band has easily gone through twenty members, and a rotating cast – Longstreth aside – simply seems to be part of the essence of this band.
It’s difficult to define what each band member specifically does because there’s no formula, and so individual roles often change with each song. There is a huge variety of sounds – clapping, duets, guitar riffs, eastern and western beats, digital effects – captured and produced using both hi-fi and lo-fi means. Dirty Projectors have collaborated with both Icelandic singer Björk, and new wave hero David Byrne of the Talking Heads, which hints at the diversity of their styles and tastes.
The off kilter, catchy pop track ‘About to Die,’ evokes a weird, sort of dyslexic Maroon 5-type groove, whilst Longstreth lyrically ponders: “How can I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it? Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die”, that is, unless he’s “already dead”.
The opening track ‘Offspring are Blank,’ plays with the idea of species propagation, of fertile parents giving birth to blank children. However, it’s delivered over hip-hop beats, r&b vocals and pop-punk rock choruses.
There are also beautiful, guitar pop songs, such as title track ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ which combines acoustic guitar, beautiful playful imagery, and a sense of wonder and adventure. But even with this simple song, the production sneakily bombards the listener with two tracks simultaneously. If listened to with headphones, one finds that that the right speaker is delivering an acoustic, beat-less ballad, and the left speaker is a bluesy, drum and bass groove; when combined, the magic is delivered.
However, just when one begins to grasp what this album is all about, the punkish, dark, Pink Floyd-ish track ‘Maybe that was It’ comes as an exploration of what it would lyrically and sonically sound like to come off LSD – confused and disoriented.
It is almost futile picking tracks off of this record, as they’re all beautiful and unique in their own way. The current single is ‘Gun Has No Trigger,’ but whatever the listener’s taste, there is definitely something, somewhere on this record for everybody.
The name Swing Lo Magellan is a likely reference to renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s daring voyage under South America, where he ‘swang lo’, becoming the first person to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In a way, that is exactly what it sounds like Longstreth is doing with this album: creating groundbreaking connections where most believed they would and could never be made. Swing Lo Longstreth, Swing Lo.
As per usual with Amr Diab’s albums, the whole of Egypt seemed to be on the edge of their seats waiting for the release of Banadeek Ta’ala (I’m Calling You, Come). And as always, the anticipation has been so high that once again songs were leaked online before the official release. However, even the online leaks didn’t stop queues of fans from lining up outside shops, waiting patiently to get their copies.
The album is made up of twelve songs, and the first thing that strikes you about the sound is that it has a predominantly upbeat tone. Think themes of romance and dancing; so the usual of Amr Diab.
The first song, which also happens to be the title track, barely features any of Diab’s vocals to speak of, but does fuse a house beat with an oud melody brilliantly. ‘Hala Hala’ follows, and is one of those upbeat romantic numbers that talks about a great life-changing love.
‘Ma’darsh Ana’ is one of the highlights of the album. It has one of the more oriental sounds, and takes you back to old-school Amr Diab. This is followed by another highlight in ‘Aloomek Leih’, which talks about two lovers drifting apart. The following ‘Ma’aak Bartaah’ is another house-influenced track with a very familiar but very catchy melody.
‘Ya Reit Senak’ marks a bit of a void; it isn’t the worst song in the world; but it doesn’t live up to the preceding songs’ standards. The subject matter – he’s fallen for a girl who’s too young – is beyond awkward and its lyrics will leave some listeners cringing. ‘Maaly Enaya’ is exactly the type of songs you’ll hear at weddings and other likewise over-the-top Egyptian celebratory events. It just makes you want to get up and dance.
‘Heya Hayaty’ offers much of the same, before
we see a change of pace with ‘Yom
Matabelna’. This song marks a softer tone and sees Diab at his smoothest and
most romantic, and would make the perfect first dance at a wedding.
Skipping over the unremarkable ‘Aghla Min Omry’, we get to the last two songs, both of which Diab has performed for a few years at his gigs. Although they have been part of his repertoire, these recordings are completely different instrumentally, especially ‘Tagrobah we ‘Adet,’ which features minimal vocals. The one constant is the chorus, which is repeated to the point that it might grate on you.
All in all, this is a safe but ultimately triumphant return for Diab. Banadeek Ta’ala never really steers far from what we expected; but then if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
You can buy the album from Amr Diab’s official website.
You've got to love Kurt Vile. Whether or not you like his songs or general aesthetics, no one can deny that he has mastered the ‘like, I’m just an ordinary dude’ artistic ethos exceptionally well. And not only has he been able to carry that grungy/punk torch into the modern world of indie music, he’s been able to do it as himself; a solo guy, a ‘singer-songwriter’, in a time when the very notion of such is enough to make one cringe.
On Wakin on a Pretty Daze, not much has changed since Vile released his debut album with Matador Records, Childish Prodigy, back in 2009. Vile is still creating acoustic guitar, ‘singer-songwriter’ songs punctuated with beautiful guitar lines and lazy but seductive melodies. Vile’s also still singing half-pedestrian/half-stoned-out lyrics about the people he meets, the bars he frequents, the planet he lives on, or the squalor of his apartment that tend to turn everyday banalities and words into epic events – at least in the eyes of a stoner.
Comparing Childish Prodigy’s lead single ‘He’s Alright’ with Pretty Daze’s ‘Wakin of a Pretty Day', it’s clear that Vile’s still trying to say: “Hey Guys. Chill out. Life’s alright. If I can do, it you can do it – right? Oh, yeah, and thanks for listening.”
There’s an instant soothing that comes from Vile’s sound; especially in Cairo, when one has to hop into a car twice a day to join the static rush hour traffic – it’s the perfect music to zone out to.
But unlike many of his contemporaries, Vile is a slow burning candle. Even before his debut album, the songs he released were pretty similar just with lower production quality. In a recent interview, Vile explained that “I know what to do to become the next big thing, but I have no interest in doing that. I want to do this my whole life.” The slow and subtle evolution of Vile’s albums – noticeable to probably only the most voracious listeners – is testament to this.
However, this desire to just cruise through his career on his own terms removes that element of surprise and heavy experimentation from Vile’s work that would really help make it stand out album to album. But at the same time, this aesthetic loyalty is also a large part of his charm.
Therefore, as a result, none of the albums really have any peaks, or troughs, and Pretty Daze is no different.
The entire album is one long, approximately 70 minute, beautiful moment, but there are no real fireworks, no explosive flashes. Stand out tracks are certainly the opener and title track, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’, as it sweeps the listener off their feet straight away and plunges them into the world of Kurt Vile.
Another notable track is ‘Shame Chamber’ which uses a steady head-nodding groove in order to bouncily deliver lyrics about mankind’s shortcomings as a finger pointing, shame inducing species. “Shame on you, shame on me, and shame on us, for feeling bad in the best way,” says Vile.
But as said, there are no money shots on Pretty Daze, only one long smooth, sensual session. Pretty Daze has also arrived just in time for spring, when hopefully, the daze that Cairenes have come to wake up to becomes a little brighter.