Dirty Projectors have always been divisive. They are the type of band that people desperately love or hate and it’s easy to see it from both sides. Their records all share the same touchstones such as complex musicianship, unusual rhythm and melodic structures, abstract lyrical concepts and challenging arrangements that can culminate in a pretension that many find unappealing. With their latest self-titled release the band, or to be precise lone band member Dave Longstreth, takes on a subject that is almost universally common throughout any musical genre: the breakup. Longstreth split with his girlfriend and former bandmate Amber Coffman and this collection of songs is directly influenced by what happened between them. He had described the record as a kaleidoscope of sorts, not a blow by blow of the proceedings but what follows is something devastatingly intimate. A portrait of a relationship that has fallen apart and how it’s possible to navigate the fallout when there are no easy answers why and you’re dealing with the leftover emotions that remain.
Lead track “Keep Your Name” confronts this head on. Starting off with the sounds of wedding bells, Longstreth keeps his voice obscured, slowed down, detailing the love lost. “I don’t know why you abandoned me”, he croons over a minimal beat. He keeps going this way until the tempo picks up and he starts to check off a laundry list of details on why this would happen. Citing everything from his general disinterest to quoting Gene Simmons' outlook on band branding, it represents a high level of self-awareness that continues throughout the record. This is not something many artists are known for and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the regular relationship angst that is commonly heard. Follow-up track “Death Spiral”, besides the lyrical content, honestly wouldn’t sound out of place on a Justin Timberlake album. Longstreth seems to be finally embracing his more pop production proclivities that we’ve been hearing since the release of “Stillness is the Move” from 2009’s Bitte Orca. Speaking of which, Longstreth actually name drops that song in the follow-up track “Up In The Hudson”. This is easily the most honest lyrically he gets on the album. He details the particulars of their entire relationship from meeting to touring, falling in love and breaking up with everything set over a lovely horn section and some delightfully distorted percussion. It’s easy to imagine Longstreth working through these songs, piecing together each new idea and part in the studio and not really thinking about anyone else hearing it at all. On “Little Bubble” this feels most apparent. The closest thing the album has to a slow jam, it’s still musically dense. Anchored by Rhodes' piano, a minimal bass line and chopped up drums, it’s amazing that he can create these concrete backing tracks that simultaneously excite and capture the intent behind his lyrics. Longsteth samples himself from the Bitte Orca track “Two Doves” on the intro to “Ascent Through Clouds”. It’s a sprawling song. Seven minutes of Longstreth and a healthy dollop of Auto-tune. It is in these moments that you can see how some could be turned off by the band but the sheer audacity on display mixed with the honesty of what he is attempting here more than make up for any affected behavior. Things settle a bit with “Cool Your Heart” -- the most straightforward pop song of the entire affair. Co-written with Solange and performed with singer D∆WN, the track is all slashed up hooks over a reggae tinged keyboard sample. The album closes with “I See You”, a reflective and redemptive song that packs up the hurt, anguish and questioning that came before and lets it all go. Over a huge, soulful Hammond organ Longstreth sings, “And now it’s getting late and it’s time to say, the projection is fading away and in its place, I see you.” It’s a lovely way to end things. Letting his former flame know that through all the pain and doubt he can finally see her as a person, the projection of who she was that was itemized in all the tracks that this culminates in, is now gone and in its place he can see the real her.
This collection of songs will be clearly be divisive. We’ve seen this through his last six recordings and it seems to be a part of his nature. There is a wall built around these songs that, whether it is the intention or not, do keep the listener at arm's length. It’s in these details though that the record really shines. With “Dirty Projectors” Longstreth was working at this most specific, most intimate and ended up capturing the feeling of the most common experience we all share. Love found and love lost. It’s a beautiful thing.