Album Review: Dirty Projectors + Bjork – Mount Wittenberg Orca

Dirty Projectors + Bjork – Mount Wittenberg Orca
Self-released: 2010

I will admit it.  When this album first floated across my desk, I was skeptical.  This had all the makings for a far-out bender of an album.  After all, David Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors crew have created some of the most imaginative pop music currently coming out of Brooklyn.  Add to that Bjork who is, well, Bjork.

But to dismiss this release as a mere art-pop dalliance would only diminish the talent and musicality here.  Yes, it’s a bit bizarre.  Bjork does play the part of a mom whale on the record.  But once you hear the story – and the fact that the proceeds go to marine protected areas – it kind of makes sense.

The Dirty Projectors MySpace page has the impetus:

    Amber from Dirty Projectors was walking along a ridge on Mount Wittenberg, north of San Francisco.  She was looking out at the ocean and saw a little family of whales, as you sometimes do in April on the Northern California coast.  I wrote some songs about it and sent them to Björk, who agreed to sing the part of the mom whale.  The songs became Mount Wittenberg Orca.  Amber and Angel and Haley sang the part of the kid whales, and I sang the part of Amber.

So there’s that.  Oh, and there’s a small footnote about not playing this through tinny computer speakers – but to “blast dat shiiiii!!”  But there’s also masterful singing, expansive arrangements and transcendental beauty.

It is a gutsy project.  I highly doubt you could easily convince any number of indie rock darlings to play the part of a whale on a record.  But here is Amber Coffman (it bears repeating, as a baby whale) teaming with Bjork, morosely miming whale songs atop an omnipresent bass in opener “Ocean”.

The tide then shifts swiftly as musical ideas crest and crash quickly.  “On and Ever Onward” is a march-like hike atop a harp and determined Bjork vocals. “When The World Comes To An End” is a swift ride along a road vocal riffs and Longstreth’s heartfelt singing.  Midway through, a steadfast guitar solo commandeers the tune into a pristine place.  “Beautiful Mother” is a handclap-heavy Bjork crooner.  “No Embrace” is a swimmy, jazzy tune featuring Longstreth and “All We Are” pleas plaintively.  And with that, the seven songs are through.

The total run time clocks in at 21 minutes.  It’s a quick trip and the effect is like a series of pointillist vignettes, with Bjork and Coffman laying the countless bright colors, Longstreth the overall vision.

This will not be a record for everyone.  The vocals occasionally border on shrill and the lyrics are at times a bit mawkish.  But we’re left with an interesting piece of art worth exploring.

3.5 out of 5
[audio:|titles=Dirty Projectors + Bjork – No Embrace]

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