Album Review: Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors

Mason McGough

Swing Lo Magellan (2012)

“There’s an answer/ I haven’t found it/ But I will keep dancing ‘til I do,” sings Dave Longstreth on Dirty Projectors’ single “Dance for You.” It’s clear from Swing Lo Magellan and Longstreth’s interviews, pockmarked with “I’m not sure” and “I don’t know”, that he is modest enough to admit he doesn’t know everything. In fact, modesty is a prevailing element on this album, at least compared to the grandiose “Bitte Orca” or the beautifully circuitous “Getty Address.” This album bears the warmth of an impromptu performance in a cabin with a circle of friends, much like “Knotty Pine,” the band’s collaboration with David Byrne on “Dark Was the Night.” However, that characterization is merely tangential; Swing Lo Magellan is truly a new frontier for a group that never rests comfortably in one spot. Fans should not worry, of course; all of the exotic melodies, interlocking harmonies and unorthodox (sometimes bordering on theatrical) arrangements that came to be synonymous with Dirty Projectors are still here in droves. While it’s plenty clear that Longstreth has expressed his distaste for crafting a “willfully esoteric vocabulary,” his elaborate metaphors, most notably on the title track, on single “Gun Has No Trigger,” and opener “Offspring are Blank” can seem to do just that. Just when you get that “Just From Chevron” is actually about the recklessness of the oil industry (as the title unambiguously suggests) or that “Dance For You,” in all its eloquence, is a simple tale about Longstreth’s futile pursuit of meaning, you’ll stumble across a line like “dead the martyr’s morbid poetry.” Singer Coffman immediately spears the line with “That doesn’t make any sense, what you just said,” as if poking fun at Longstreth for defying his own commitment. Even when trying his best to be communicative, Longstreth is as opaque as the universal secrets he and the rest of us seek.

The members of Dirty Projectors pose more questions than they answer, but they do so as a group of friends, not just a band.

[‘Speculative Bros’ out of five stars]