Please, Please: A Review of Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca
Wow, so here we are. Only one Saturday left in the year, folks, and this will be my last album review of 2009. Lo, these last two weeks have certainly flown by. Remember way back when I told you I’d bring you my three favorite albums of the year and hit you with the latest Akron/Family release? It seems so long ago. And then what about last week? Can you tell I basically broke down crying halfway through the post and simply had to stop because The Antler’s Hospice was just too beautiful for words? I was so much older then. Now, here we are, and I’m bringing you the last of my faves. If you’re actually reading this, thanks for allowing me to share these musings with you this year. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun for me, and I hope it’s been at least tolerable for you. Thanks for not writing a bunch of emails to the other Tweeders begging them to kick me off the site.
Today, we wrap up our series with my final favorite of the year, Dirty Projectors‘ Bitte Orca. In a year where it’s become almost passé for white rock groups to emulate syncopation, rhythm and blues, odd time signatures, and African guitar styles, Dirty Projectors’ mastermind Dave Longstreth has managed to craft an album that pays homage to all these things without aping them. Let’s face it, there was a TON of awesome music coming out of the Motherland this year, so there’s really no reason to look for American interpretations of Afrobeat or Highlife. But that hasn’t stopped some bands from trying, and some have even done a decent job at it.
Dirty Projectors are different, though. Longstreth is his own man (as anyone who writes and performs an entire album about Don Henley must be), and he manages to borrow from a number of different musical styles without sounding like a knock off. His guitar playing is certainly heavily influenced by Central African guitar styles (listen to Vieux Farka Touré), but he also isn’t afraid to throw in some heavy R&B and even some orchestral arrangements. And despite the fact that Longstreth is undoubtedly the leader, the Projectors are far from a one-man band. Most notably, singers Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian are integral to the band, both as lead vocalists and backup singers. I have to say that the Projectors are certainly one of the most musically interesting bands that I’ve heard this year.
So what makes Bitte Orca so great? Variety is one thing, the bands effortlessly hops from one style and rhythm to another without warning, which always keeps you on your toes as a listener. The songs are eclectic, but accessible at the same time. Longstreth is a master at taking disparite notes and putting them together in ways that are odd, but not offensive, to the American pop-music-trained ear. Perhaps the best example of this is the sixth track on the album, called “Useful Chamber”. The track follows a soft, acoustic number called “Two Doves”, which lilts along with beautiful orchestration. Then, all of a sudden, you get hit with synths over deep bass and hi-hat beating out a hip-hop beat. Longstreth and company sing a verse, then give way to a chorus of plucked strings bracketed by heavy guitar riffs. After another synth-laden verse that throws in some reverb and another plucked/riffed chorus, Longstreth raps ever so slightly over the beat before the listener gets thrown into a tornado of sound. “Bitte, Orca! Orca, Bitte!” (translated “Please, Whale! Whale, Please!) sings Longstreth while his guitar goes every way imaginable. Then, as suddenly as you were thrown into the tornado, it stops and the girls sing a number of “Ahh”s over the bass track while Longstreth sings like nothing ever happened. It is simply an amazing song that defies categorization.
I won’t force you to read my heavy-handed analysis of each track. Suffice it to say that, like the other albums I love so much, Bitte Orca isn’t so much an album as it is a listening experience. Please don’t disrespect it by relegating it to simple background music. This is an album that you have to spend time with and get to know before you’ll truly appreciate it. But once you do, you’ll find a world that is rich and satisfying. It’s as if each song teems with life, almost bursting at the seams with the abundant joy that the band felt in putting it together. It seems to me that making Bitte Orca was as much a revelation to the band as listening to it was to me. At the end of the year, Bitte Orca represents for me the best that popular music can be and gives me great hope for what it can become in the future. That’s what makes it so great.