Today’s world is a noisy place. From the moment we wake up (usually to a buzzing alarm beside our heads), we are inundated with all-time high levels of noise pollution. To cope, we cocoon ourselves, turning up the volume until our inner thoughts are forced to scream to be heard if at all, barely audible over the din.
The Dirty Projectors successfully soared above the noisy indie-stratosphere with 2009’s Bitte Orca, an album that refracted David Longstreth’s avant-garde vision through a prism of bright, brash art-rock. Instead of repeating this formula, or ratcheting the levels up higher, the band returns with Swing Lo Magellan, a simpler-sounding record that digs deeper by scaling back.
Recorded in Andes, New York, a tiny town buried an hour west of Woodstock, the album whittles away at their previous Pollockian production and sometimes distracting dissonance in favor of more direct, distilling discussions. The group successfully cuts through the abstraction and taps into the bone, unearthing beautiful, groovy songs with direct lyrics about love, identity (“Offspring Are Blank”), environmentalism (“Just From Chevron”), and existentialism (“Impregnable Question”).
Just about everything on Swing Lo is delightfully less-refined. We hear throat-clearings, laughter, and even off-mic chatter, opting for authentic instead of over-polished. But the band still successfully incorporates some of their signature stylings: creative harmonies, divergent guitar solos, and of course, Longstreth’s colorful croon. This unique mix of sincerity with their left-of-center perspective results in an album that feels unabashedly pure, imperfections and all.
Longstreth stated in a recent interview that Dirty Projectors are not a band that “does one thing sublimely well over and over again”, so they must reinvent, which they have successfully done here. But the band has clearly done one thing well repeatedly, and that is make great records. And Swing Lo Magellan might be the band’s best yet – a warm, comforting remedy to today’s noise pollution.