There was allegedly a leak of the new Dirty Projectors album a couple of days ago, which means that yet again my dithering has robbed me of blogging exclusivity. The thing is, as I’ve mentioned a few times over the past month, I’ve been finding “Bitte Orca”, like its predecessors, somewhat intriguing and uncrackable. Today, I think I’m getting closer to understanding it.

There was allegedly a leak of the new Dirty Projectors album a couple of days ago, which means that yet again my dithering has robbed me of blogging exclusivity. The thing is, as I’ve mentioned a few times over the past month, I’ve been finding “Bitte Orca”, like its predecessors, somewhat intriguing and uncrackable. Today, I think I’m getting closer to understanding it.



The initial problem with David Longstreth and his band, I’ve always suspected, is that they’re so concerned with the cerebral innovations of their music that they sometimes privilege complexity, regardless of the effect it might have on their potency. I’m obviously not against cleverness in music, but with the Dirty Projectors it can be hard to see beyond that cleverness, as if the act of being clever is an artistic end in itself. I had a similar problem with “The Drift”: I like Scott Walker – and latterday Scott Walker – very much, but that record seemed stymied by such an ostentatious display of intellectual chops.

“Bitte Orca” is, clearly, nowhere near as difficult a record as that. Listening to it again and again in the Uncut office, we’ve heard traces of Yes, Polvo, Scritti Politti, XTC and Talking Heads (two bands, actually, I’ve never liked quite as much as I’ve wanted to; a clue, perhaps), African hi-life, contemporary R&B, post-rock and Prince. The last song, “Fluorescent Half Dome”, is a diaphanous, ambulatory slow jam that’s more or less midway between “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”.

There are some pretty amazing things here, for sure. “Temecula Sunrise”, for instance, starts off with some acoustic fingerpicking but, rapidly, it seems as if the player is channelling Toumani Diabaté as much as John Fahey, before sliding into the sort of dislocated post-pop which used to be the trademark of The Sea And Cake.

Two songs in the centre of “Bitte Orca” stand out, though. One is the first single, “Stillness Is The Move”, a brittle and inventive reconfiguration of Aaliyah songs like “One In A Million” or “We Need A Resolution”; a comparison that resonates all the more thanks to Amber Coffman’s calmly soulful lead vocal. Straight after comes “Two Doves”, a gorgeous chamber folk-pop song, sung by Angel Deradoorian, that isn’t a million miles from a Joanna Newsom piece.

It’s the immediate pleasure to be had from these two songs, however, which reveals something more about my response to the rest of “Bitte Orca”, and to the Dirty Projectors’ work in general. They’re the only two songs where Longstreth doesn’t take the lead – which suggests that my difficulty with the band might not be because of their theoretical rigour, but is down to one of the simplest, and hardest-to-explain, negative reactions you can have to music; I just don’t like the singer’s voice too much.

Ironically, Longstreth is probably more reined-in here than on previous albums, and on paper his voice – a mix of Green Gartside and Jeff Buckley, crudely – should be appealing. Longstreth, though, has a capricious way with a vocal melody, and sometimes it can sound like Antony Hegarty improvising to a slightly different tune than the one which we’re hearing.

I don’t doubt Longstreth has brilliant reasons for singing this way, perhaps rooted in his rare academic understanding of how music and composition works – or can work. But while it’s undoubtedly interesting, and often compelling, I’m not sure how much I actually like it. This is the recurrent issue I have with the Dirty Projectors: however much I struggle, there’s something about this band and their music that makes me want to play it again and again, to try and get to the bottom of it. Maybe I need, like all the evangelists tell me, to see them live?