Filed under: Reviews | Tags: 2012, album review, Dirty Projectors, music, Swing Lo Magellan
Dirty Projectors have been around for a while now. They’ve actually been kicking around Canada for about a decade, releasing records with terrible album art and covering entire Black Flag LPs from memory. However, it wouldn’t be entirely untrue to say that their last LP, 2009’s Bitte Orca, works as a fresh start for the band, encapsulating most of the good stuff that came before it and repackaging it as the most listenable and rewarding material the band’s ever released. Needless to say, expectations have been high for Bitte Orca‘s follow up. Fortunately, Swing Lo Magellan serves as a worthy successor to the Projectors’ break out LP, offering the same quality songwriting and fun arrangements while simultaneously pulling back on a lot of the bombast that might have turned some away from the band in the past.
While Orca was characterized by big guitar indie rock numbers, on-repeat summer jams and uh, German whale chants, the predominating tone on Swing Lo Magellan is one of rustic tranquility. Most tracks fall closer towards the “Two Doves” side of the spectrum than say, the one where you’d find tracks like “Cannibal Resource”. As such, the Projectors have crafted an album that sounds like it would be perfect softly humming from your stereo as you try to navigate your car down the backroads of a forest, searching for the hidden road that will lead to your family’s old Summer cabin, or something. Much of the mood is provided by frontman David Longstreth’s guitar playing; the acoustics on songs like the title track, for instance, sounds like Longstreth’s had Dylan’s John Wesley Harding on repeat. Meanwhile, “Just from Chevron” features handclaps that sounds like the band might be playing paddy cake, and some of the sweetest vocals on the entire record, while “Dance for You” and “Impregnable Question” manage to achieve almost a zen-like state in their poetic and innocent declarations of devotion.
Swing Lo Magellan may find Longstreth and the band letting a lot of light into their songs, but the record is not without its dark moments. First single “Gun Has No Trigger” finds the band locking into a tight groove to produce a sinister sound somewhat reminiscent of the White Album’s more macabre moments. Opener “Offspring Are Blank” might just be the bleakest track on this thing, though, as Longstreth sings of impending darkness, shadows and a “silence that can swallow sound” in between big guitar freak-outs and thunderous cymbal crashes. It’s one of the big, bring-down-the-house numbers that book-ends the LP, the other being “Unto Caesar”. But while “Offspring” starts things off on a dark note, “Unto Caesar” is a fun, catchy, horn and string-drenched jam, with a big shout-along chorus and cleverly captured studio chatter that really makes you want to be right there in the studio with these guys.
“Unto Caesar” is probably the track here most likely to generate the kind of excitement originally induced by Bitte Orca’s stand out moments, but the destination at which the Projectors’ ultimately arrive on Swing Lo Magellan is well represented by the record’s closer, the drifting, folky “Irresponsible Tune”. It features more of the guitars, vocals and harmonies that all help to make Magellan feel like a natural, humbler product than its predecessor, a record that sounds like the Dirty Projectors capturing not only a celebratory high, but the lull of everyday life. And to be honest, a lull has rarely sounded this appealing.
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