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on July 10, 2012
I've been slowly warming up to Dirty Projectors ever since hearing their 2009 release, Bitte Orca. Hailed as a masterpiece of art pop by most critics, the album received a more divisive reaction from the hoi polloi. Tending to naturally lean toward the poppier songs on an album, my immediate favorite was "Two Doves." Overall, I felt that a lot of the album was art for art's sake and its finicky experimentalism prevented me from truly enjoying Bitte Orca as a whole.

With the release of Swing Lo Magellan, the band has veered off into a completely different direction altogether. The sparse string arrangements, African guitars, and crazy drumming remain intact but the focus on pop song structure is a notable change. Indie quirkiness takes a backseat to melody on this album, and the result is some of the best hooks I have ever encountered on a Dirty Projectors record. People are calling this record their most accessible yet - the perfect balance of musical intellectualism and pure pop. Here's my take, track-by-track.

Offspring Are Blank - The first song on the album opens in typical Dirty Projectors fashion, with those excellent female backup vocals, but it isn't long until the song breaks into a 70's fuzz-rock chorus. (6/10)

About to Die - This might be the best example of the tightrope the band walks between pop and obscure. The verses are sporadic and lyrical but the chorus is simple and extremely catchy. When the strings come in, it adds an amazing element to the song. (10/10)

Gun Has No Trigger - Likely the most minimalistic song on the album, Gun Has No Trigger consists mainly of voices, singing over drums and a very funky bass line. This song does indeed sound as if it were pulled from a James Bond film. (10/10)

Swing Lo Magellan - In the title track, Dave Longstreth slips into a Lou Reed singing voice for a song that sounds as if it were right off of The Velvet Underground's eponymous album. The simple folk melody and soft vocals are an unexpected surprise. (8/10)

Just From Chevron - Somewhat reminiscent of "Stillness on the Move," this track features a notable blend of both male and female lead vocals. The lyrical theme here is a dark reminder of 2010's disastrous oil spill. (6/10)

Dance For You - This is possibly the most pop-conscious track on the album. If interesting indie music were ever played on the radio (instead of that one song by Gotye), this song would be a hit. Simple, sweet lyrics that sound unusually sincere and less abstract than Longstreth's usual fare. (10/10)

Maybe That Was It - I was picking up some major Pink Floyd vibes from this track. Its effortless classic rock vibe is obvious, though it sounds to me a little more like a skip track on a Pink Floyd album. (5/10)

Impregnable Question - Piano hits, female oo's, walking bassline, acoustic guitar, tambourine... this song is pure Motown. It's catchy as anything I've heard all year and it sounds like a rare find, pulled out of a milk crate of old records. (10/10)

See What She Seeing - This track is pleasant enough. The strings in the background add a nice touch to a song that would otherwise seem empty. (6/10)

The Socialites - The only song on the album without David Longstreth's vocals, The Socialites is a lyrically straightforward take on snobs. It can be summed up in one line, "I'm glad they're the ones on the other side of the glass." Notice the synthesizers in the background purring like alien cats throughout. (8/10)

Unto Caesar - Sounding a little like a hippie jam, "Unto Caesar" sounds strangely like something that could be played at Woodstock at its best, and similar to a Dave Matthews B-side at its worst. "When should we bust into harmony?" is a great hidden line in there. (6/10)

Irresponsible Tune - A soulful album closer. It almost sounds like a modern take on a classic blues song that nobody ever heard. (7/10)

Overall, this album is a huge step in the right direction if this band seeks to widen their appeal. Thanks for reading.
33 comments39 of 44 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
In 2009 Brooklyn wonders the Dirty Projectors produced an album of such sheer invention entitled "Bitte Orca" that when they released it it should have come with a patent. The name "Talking Heads" is generally bandied around when it comes to this band but frankly what both bands really share in common is a sense of inventiveness and most importantly a desire to produce music that taxes your brain cells. The inventor in chief in the band is a real "Smart Alec" named David Longstreth who studied classical composition at Yale University and brings with him a desire to test, tease and on occasions torment in terms of his musical constructions. He also had within the band Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian two female singers blessed with voices that could melt polar ice caps not least in fabulous songs like "Stillness is the move" and the the ravishing beauty contained in the orchestral highs of 'Two Doves".

It appears that for Longstreth's latest offering "Swing Lo Magellan" that regular vocalist, Angel Deradoorian, is on a bit of a hiatus although Coffman remains present. Indeed she takes control on one of the major highlights on this album the bubbling and minimalist funk of the wonderful "The socialites" which for the curious should be the point of entry in this cerebral but largely accessible album. Opening track "Offspring are blank" starts with a good old humming sound from a mix of male and female voices and loops it way through a clever song structure laid out by Longstreth which is punctuated by an impertinent noisy rock guitar which rudely but effectively breaks the gentle flow of the song. Other songs like the poptastic single "Gun has no trigger" are far more straightforward affairs and in days of yore before Cowell created monstrosities dominated the airways might have actually charted. The title track does tip a nod to David Byrne but is none the worse for it while the playful "Dance for you" shows that Longstreth is taking a decidedly more accessible path than earlier albums. On that song he reflects that "there is an answer, I havent found it" and yet musically he seems to be getting closer to a form of inventive pop perfection matched by too few other bands. Irritatingly "Impregnable question" sounds to this reviewer like a Prince song but with the old grey matter receding rapidly identfying which is one it is is proving a source of high irritation (help!). Some might complain that all this amounts to a significant blunting of the dense quirkiness that was found on previous Projectors output and yet one of the best songs on this album "See what she seeing" sounds like a manic Kid A style ping pong match with a structure held together by the Longstreth's best vocal. One significant complaint is that he is so full of ideas that perhaps ultimately he rather over dominates this album and with a vocalist like Amber Coffman at hand it seems to be a case of wilful underuse of her considerable skills?

"Swing Lo Magellan" ends with a song entitled "Irresponsible tune" which ironically for Longstreth at least is a straightforward acoustic strum albeit one that hauntingly fades out to conclude a work which cements the reputation of the Dirty Projectors as a band who are not content to stand still and rest on the proverbial laurels. This is an intricate and invigorating album that for those who have never heard of this band represents an ideal starting point because of its underlying pop sensibility. Dirty Projectors remain a challenging band who remain wedded to producing music that sometimes doesn't quite hit the mark but when it does they are unstoppable.
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on July 13, 2012
Recorded across one year and 40 demos, The Dirty Projector's SWING LO MAGELLAN has made its way out of the studio. Written, arranged, mixed, produced, by David Longstreth, this album was meant to be more personal and eclectic than previous releases. Strangely, this album feels more complete than others (even 2009's very good BITTE ORCA), while maintaining Longstreth's promise that these songs wouldn't be united by a single theme or style.

The Dirty Projectors is a band that is constantly experimenting with its own sound. This album is no different, but it feels much looser than past releases. Where other albums felt conscious about the experimentation that was taking place, SWING LO MAGELLAN feels much less thought out; instead, many of the vocal flares and instrumental flourishes sound improvised or instinctual. It feels less like Longstreth is trying to be interesting and more like he's having fun writing music. The second half of the album doesn't quite live up to the fantastic first half of SWING LO MAGELLAN; "The Socialites," doesn't have a good enough melody to support itself. "Unto Caesar" and its dragging strings slow the song down to a crawl. "Irresponsible Tune," while an interesting choice to finish the album, doesn't meet their rest of the album's emotional heights.

Stylistically, this album is all over the place. The ripping guitar riff that interrupts quiet intro track "Offspring Are Blank" could have come out of Fugazi. The go-for-broke vocals in "About to Die" and "Unto Caesar" are reminiscent of Animal Collective. The rhythmic meter and crooning of "See What You're Seeing" recalls a great Hot Chip track. The closing track "Irresponsible Tune" wouldn't sound too out of place in a collection of recent Neil Young acoustics. SWING LO MAGELLAN covers plenty of musical ground, and while I use other bands for stylistic references, the Dirty Projectors are uniquely their own.

For listeners that are new to the Dirty Projectors, this album is a great one to start with: it's consistent, and it feels like a good summation of everything the band has worked on until now. For those who are familiar with Longstreth and company, SWING LO MAGELLAN is a great addition to the band's already good discography, but some listeners might mourn to the absence of Angel Deradoorian. Fans of the Talking Heads, Animal Collective, Hot Chip, or the Shins will find material here to like. Standout songs to sample/download: "Gun Has No Trigger," "About to Die," and "Impregnable Question." These songs will give listeners an idea of what to expect for the band's musical style, but it's not representative of everything SWING LO MAGELLAN has to offer.

Overall, if you have been put off by the Dirty Projector's quirky sensibilities in the past, you can probably pass on this. If, however, you're looking for an interesting album that has plenty of nuance to pour over, SWING LO MAGELLAN is a great listen.
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on September 12, 2012
There's always been a delightful irreverence about the Dirty Projectors, right back when it was just Dave Longstreth on his lonesome fooling around with 20th century classical music and blending incongruous production values. His unique approach to music making have helped turn DP into one of the most distinctive bands in the world and on Swing Lo Magellan they've made their first legitimate pop record. "Gun Has No Trigger" the albums lead single, features the Projectors trademark off kilter vocal harmonies, subtle instrumentation and Longstreths mangled Thom Yorke-esque falsetto. These elements are sequenced in such a way on "GHNT" though, that as a listener you feel invited to join in the reverie instead of being alienated by it. Lines like "You'd see the oceans swell, And the mountains shook, You'd see a million colors, If you really looked" are incredibly evocative in an elucidated brechtian type of way.

The sparse clicks, empty spaced singing and muted percussion of opener "Offspring Are Blank" lure you into a false sense of security before the chorus of explosive arena rock blows the cobwebs right out your complacent ears. Dirty Projectors mischevious moment of cacophanous euphoria in this song demonstrates how cleverly they can mix abrasiveness and accessability without it feeling disjointed or incongruous in any way. Long time DP fans may miss the absent Angel Deradoorian but should feel consoled with Amber coffman's superlative contributions, she turns in a beautiful vocal performance and some insightful lyricism on "The Socialites", her sweet butter wouldn't melt style of singing in this song cleverly disguises her razor sharp diatribe to judgemental elitists.

On the title track Longstreth gets his dylan on, by rambling out a modern day folk tune which their short film Hi Custodian perfectly captures the spirit of. "Dance For You" whilst being one of my personal favourites also serves to describe the irrepressable brilliance of Swing Lo Magellan by condensing everything that makes this album so great into one song. Inventive arrangements, catchy guitar riffs, handclapped rhythms and pensively playful lyrics all flow melifluously here and it's a marvel to behold. Whether this album has managed to replace Bitte Orca as the bands crowning achievement seems like an unnecessary thing to contemplate right now as i'm still having far too much fun getting to know this gem to begin making such comparisons. One thing i will say though is that after half a dozen listens swing Lo just keeps getting better and better so at the very least it's a real possibility.
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on August 3, 2012
A perfect synthesis of beats and classic rock, built on the foundation of nearly ten years of musical and sonic exploration. The stirring melodies and unique arrangements serve the direct, emotional content well. "About to Die," about the joy inherent in the riddle of life and the certainty of death is built on a uplifting vocal melody in the chorus and playful bassline in the verses; "Just From Chevron," one of the most moving political and environmental protest songs I've heard, is built on a beat that evokes an incomplete militaristic rhythm, complete with gorgeous vocals from Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle serving as a sort of Greek chorus. "Dance For You" and "Gun Has No Trigger" have been promoted as singles, and they're fantastic. So's "Unto Caesar" and the remarkable closer, "Irresponsible Tune."
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on February 4, 2013
AMAZING album-- most overlooked album of 2012---
i would give it more starts if there were more.
It came quickly in the mail and was in PERFECT condition.
the deluxe edition comes with these "braille-like" cards of the lyrics- so cool!
great purchase.
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on August 29, 2014
Anticipation for the follow-up to one of the year’s best loved albums is traditionally high regardless of the band or their following. For the Dirty Projectors “Swing Lo Magellan” represented a turning point and the perfect opportunity to defy expectations after the critical triumph of “Bitte Orca” three years previously. Dave Longstreth and his faithful bandmates had been releasing records for years before “Bitte Orca” catapulted them to indie-rock stardom, but those releases were viewed as somewhat elitist, purpose-made art rock for the selective middle classes. Fully aware of their emergence over the past few years, the Dirty Projectors collaborated with Björk on 2011’s “Mount Wittenberg Orca EP.” One gets the feeling that Björk was helping out friends, safe in the knowledge that her fame would effortlessly raise their profile.

Since “Bitte Orca,” Dirty Projectors have displayed an increasing awareness of their own emotional worth. “Swing Lo Magellan” builds on these qualities, representing their most immediate and accessible sound thus far. Even if Longstreth appears at first a little apprehensive by exposing too much of himself in his writing, it probably comes as no surprise that he accomplishes it with considerable skill. Dirty Projectors have always felt more self-aware and referential than your average band, a quality which has allowed them to realise their own potential and limitations with each successive release. What may sound at first like a band uncertain of where to take their eclecticism quickly reveals itself to be their most mature and confident release to date. Highlights are numerous, but the acoustic jangle of the title track with Longstreth’s beautifully flourished vocal arrangement is surely one to remember. Equally impressive is “Impregnable Question,” a beautiful paean to a loved one in the most simple of terms. “Bitte Orca” never felt contrived, but there was always a sense that they were pushing an agenda which sought to challenge or even frustrate. Those complications are banished on “Swing Lo Magellan” where studio mistakes seem to crop up and weave seamlessly into the fabric of the band’s overarching sound palette. Longstreth clears his throat on opener “Offspring Are Blank” just before the first verse, while the playful “Unto Caesar” places the listener right in the studio as bandmates question the song’s flow and composition. Clearly this is a world away from the vocal acrobatics of “Bitte Orca“‘s majestic title track.

That first-take readiness casts the band in an entirely new light yet the song structures here are deceptively complex, surprising more attentive ears with unexpected nuances or shifts in sound; lead single “Gun Has No Trigger” builds explosive choral arrangements around a military drum march; the joyous handclaps of “Just From Chevron” belie the song’s dire warning of oil spills while the jubilant “Dance For You” is interrupted by orchestral swells before dancing out against a sunset backdrop; the psychedelic-tinged “Maybe That Was It” repeatedly folds and crumples in on itself like a crashing car before restructuring itself. The latter half of the album plays heavily on experimental time signatures and stop-start rhythms with muscular numbers like “The Socialites” and “See What She Seeing” retaining a featherweight lightness, thanks in part to Amber Coffman’s reassuring vocals and an overall ease at the unfathomable structures that Longstreth spews forth.

“Swing Lo Magellan” is arguably the Dirty Projectors’ most perfectly executed release thus far and remains an impressive addition to a band a decade into their stride. “Bitte Orca” is certainly a more ambitious record, yet was conceived at a point in the band’s career when a push into newer directions felt essential. I still hold it alongside Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” as the joint breakthrough alternative album of 2009. The real beauty behind “Swing Lo Magellan” can ultimately be attributed to Longstreth’s intuition and vision of what his band should ultimately constitute. In stripping back the fuzz of earlier records he manages to retain the true essence of what it means to be the Dirty Projectors. Vocals are still alarmingly off-kilter and the instrumentation is frequently challenging, yet the sense of wonder and surprise inherent throughout all their music remains thankfully intact. By any other band’s standards this would be viewed as an incredibly experimental, almost avant-garde piece of work. With the Dirty Projectors it’s merely a transition piece, and a brilliant one at that.
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on August 6, 2012
Never heard of this band until a few weeks ago they popped up headlining a concert with an opening band I really wanted to see. (The concert was pretty good, BTW.) I purchased the album at Amazon and gave it lengthy listens. The verdict: I like it-- every song here has a certain appeal, some more than others, although the way these pop songs are played may be off-putting to those whose tastes are more mainstream.

What is this music? It's not progressive, although some of it sounds like it. It's not atonal/free form, although some of it sounds like it is. It's not exactly classic rock, but sometimes the guitar playing leans in that direction. I am left with the impression that Dirty Projectors puts in a lot of effort to sound like a spontaneous, lo-fi indie rock band, but close inspection reveals that their music is very idiosyncratic. An ambitious record, to say the least.

I would like to see this band expand in the direction of songs like "About To Die" and "See What She's Seeing" and "The Socialites"--little gems that may sound off kilter at first, but work wonderfully after a few listens, once you "get" what they are trying to do. One the other hand, "Just From Chevron" is just too busy. "Unto Caesar" shows the band laboring to sound somewhat "normal" and sounds out of place. "Gun Has No Trigger" is a little underdeveloped compared to the complex songs around although it is a logical single.

I think this band has yet to show us the depth of their talent. I look forward to their next release.
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on July 13, 2012
It's the new Dirty Projectors album. It's great. Different from every other album they've put out. Just as every album they put out is different from the rest. This feels fresh.
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VINE VOICEon May 2, 2013
After a string of intellectually ambitious but aesthetically questionable offerings, the Dirty Projectors released the otherworldly and brilliant Bitte Orca. Featuring lyrics that would bring obsessive philosopher-intellectual types to orgasm and Longstreth's novel instrumental and vocal arrangements that had finally come into focus, it offered a listening experience unlike any other but with just enough melodic familiarity to be accessible to more than just a handful of obsessive philosopher-intellectual types.

Swing Lo Magellan would seem to follow along in the same path as Bitte Orca, though perhaps a bit more "accessible" or "poppy."

Personally, I find Bitte Orca to be the stronger album, but not by much, and if the Projectors can continue to put out more music of this caliber I for one will be quite content.

By way of encouragement to wary would-be listeners: any work of art requires that we get used to it. We need to build a sense of familiarity with something before we can relax enough to unlock the key and "get it." Try this album. Listen to it. Then listen to it again. Stick with it, and you'll not only listen but hear. And once you do, maybe you'll love it as I do.
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