Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth lays everything on the table in his seventh album, “Dirty Projectors.” It’s been five years since the band’s previous project “Swing Lo Magellan,” and the new self-titled album is Longstreth’s unofficial solo project. It transitions the band’s previous indie rock sound into new electronic and R&B territories as he reflects on a past relationship. That relationship was between Longstreth and former Dirty Projectors vocalist and guitarist, Amber Coffman.
This album unapologetically addresses the downfall of this relationship. The first track, “Keep Your Name,” highlights his relationship without immediately addressing Coffman. Wedding bells introduce the album but are quickly modulated by melancholic piano chords and Longstreth’s voice. “What we imagined and what we became/ We’ll keep ‘em separate and you keep your name,” he declares, alluding to a figurative divorce. However, as the track nears its end, metaphors are put aside in favor of the harsh truth. “Our band is our brand and it looks that our vision is dissonance,” Longstreth admits. Accompanying the bluntness of the second half of the track is the overwhelmingly steady drum machine, the morphing synths and the subtle, high-pitched harmonies. All are used effectively as it traps its listeners into an enclosed personal space that they may feel to be intruding upon.
Other tracks follow this atmosphere. “Little Bubble” creates an ethereal environment with its lovely mix of violins, cellos, organs and subtle cymbals. The detail in this track is impeccable as literal bubble popping sounds are played in the background as Longstreth reminisces about the pair’s simpler, more intimate times. Meanwhile, album highlight “Up in Hudson” is brilliantly composed and the most similar to the Dirty Projectors’ previous album. The grim chorus cannot compete with the uplifting tune. Filled with horns and tropical sounds, “Up in Hudson” effortlessly contradicts the album’s melancholic concept with its creative arrangement.
Longstreth takes many musical risks in this album. As earlier noted, Longstreth drops his previous folk, indie rock sound and goes for an R&B and electronic attempt instead. Tracks such as “Death Spiral” and “Work Together” contain a rhythmic electronic chorus and, for the most part, it’s done in a catchy manner. The experimentation goes overboard in “Ascent Through Clouds” with its heavily autotuned vocals. But, it does slightly redeem itself in its mid-song interlude. Kanye West may have been an influence on Longstreth’s new sound—there are multiple references to the rapper throughout the song.
“Cool Your Heart,” featuring R&B singer D?WN may be the album’s most commercially friendly song. Co-written by Solange, the track is playful and breezy while still belonging within the album’s concept. D?WN’s vocals are refreshing after Longstreth’s one-sided confessions, but they are bittersweet as it’s normally Coffman who provides the feminine vocals in traditional Dirty Projectors performances. However, this collaboration and the testing with new genres is a good sign that there is a potential future without Coffman.
The self-titled album may be too focused on just one overarching theme but the musical compositions are not nearly as redundant as its subject matter. Each track has its defining mechanisms that can never bore its listener. “The projection is fading away,” proclaims Longstreth in the closing track, “I See You,” and this could be a good thing since it’ll begin a new era for the band that has managed to stay around since 2002.