Dirty Projectors - "Stillness is the Move" (Live at SXSW)
In a recent New York Times interview, Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth comes across as just the kind of guy you’d want to spill beer on if you met him at a party. He wants us to know that he grew up looking down on his friends’ video games. He puts himself in the same sentence as John Coltrane, Richard Wagner and William Blake. He repeatedly cherishes the outlandishness of his ideas, as though it’s the weirdest and most genius thing in the world to combine elements of currently popular R&B, international pop music and canonized rock. He makes totally technique-reliant music and makes sure we know that he drills his band 12 hours a day, yet he claims an amateur’s spirit. If he keeps giving interviews like this, he’ll earn a spot opposite Kanye West on “I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” Never mind the beer, how about dumping grape juice on his new white tennis sweater?
But that’s not what makes this record so frustrating. Your music collection is probably full of albums capable of imparting pleasure despite the ego-self-stroking predilections of their makers. No, the thing that really sucks about Bitte Orca is that the guy is probably onto something pretty good, but his allegiance to cleverness rather than consistency fucks it up. The problem is right there in the title, which combines the German word for “please” with the name of a beautiful but voracious carnivore. Longstreth says he wanted to combine something smooth and affirming with something barbed and sharp. But the title’s words don’t say anything together or contradict each other in an interesting way – they just sit next to each other sounding unrelated.
The same goes for Bitte Orca’s music, which is full of odd combinations that never do more than draw attention to their oddness. Do you really want to hear the answer to the question “What if Glenn Tilbrook started singing like Freddy Mercury?” Do you think that jumping from the awkwardly stomping prog of late Led Zeppelin to ultra-compressed contemporary beats ‘n’ coos or McCartney-esque cute-pop is inherently interesting? If you answer yes, you might love this record. But if you’re left shaking your head like me, it’s probably because Longstreth’s music begs the question. Why did he make Bitte Orca? The only answer proffered is, because he could.
The juxtapositions don’t say anything like, say, the Red Krayola’s might, and the opposing pop elements cancel each other. Longstreth’s persistent undermining of his own pop talent feels like one more way to say that he’s too good to play the same games as his friends.