Dirty Projectors gained perspective in time off
Thelast time the Georgia Straight caught up with Dirty Projectors guitarist-vocalist Amber Coffman, the band was just on the cusp of hitting it big with its sixth full-length platter, Bitte Orca. While still exploring the gorgeously fractured art-pop of previous work, jumping anywhere from West African rhythms to folky Led Zeppelin III worship, the album also featured the experimental R & B jam “Stillness Is the Move,” a song whose Mariah Carey–styled lead vocals from Coffman were a far cry from the unique and passionate yelp of band leader Dave Longstreth. The album helped the New York act cross over into the mainstream via praise from Rolling Stone and Time, televised jam sessions with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and a cover courtesy of Beyoncé Knowles’s little sister Solange. After the group’s lengthiest tour cycle behind Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors had to face an obvious question: What’s next?
“You come away from that and step away for a year and a half, and it gives you a lot of perspective,” says Coffman, reached at a tour stop in Toronto. “ The chance to reflect and think about how you want to move forward and continue on the path that you’re on.”
While the group’s members took some time apart from each other after wrapping up tour commitments, Longstreth displaced himself from his Brooklyn neighbourhood to a cabin further upstate in Andes for the better part of a year. There, he began writing what would eventually become the Dirty Projectors’ recently released seventh platter, Swing Lo Magellan. While the songwriter penned upwards of 70 tunes on his own, the rest of the band—Coffman, bassist Nat Baldwin, drummer Brian McOmber, and vocalist Haley Dekle—would go up intermittently to help record their parts as he envisioned them. (McOmber has since been swapped out for skin-pounder Michael Johnson, and Olga Bell has been added on backup vocals and keyboards.)
“I went up there a lot with him. We were in touch,” Coffman confirms. “It’s not like he shut everyone out, but you do have to go to a very sort of private place in order to write a song, especially songs as personal and deep as the ones he came out with.”
Of the album’s many highlights, “Gun Has No Trigger” may be the most stunning. The track plays tenderly, kicking off with a rudimentarily funky beat and Coffman and Dekle’s swoon-worthy, harmonized “oohs”. From there, Longstreth delivers one of his most impassioned, though tempered, vocal performances, heartbreakingly musing on topics of injustice, futility, and social unrest.
Elsewhere, Swing Lo Magellan offers up sunny, orchestra-assisted pop (“Dance for You”), old-time piano sing-alongs (“Impregnable Question”), and skittery future funk (“About to Die”). Coffman, meanwhile, takes lead vocal duties again on “The Socialites,” another R & B–peppered number that has sun-warped synth bends and muted six-string acrobatics supporting her beyond-impressive, octave-jumping vibrato.
While Dirty Projectors clearly could have stacked the disc with more material, Coffman’s glad it kept things to a manageable 12 tracks.
“You can only put so many songs on one LP,” she insists. “We didn’t want to do a double album, because I think that’s just a little too overwhelming. Some songs we’ll throw out there in the world in the next year or so.”
First up is a limited tour-exclusive seven-inch featuring “Buckle Up” and “Desire to Love”, two songs Coffman summarized as being “awesome”. It’s tough to sate a devoted fan base, though, that already knows there’s so much more to come. In a conflagration of feelings ranging anywhere from curiosity to greed, they’re already asking of Dirty Projectors: “What’s next?”
Dirty Projectors plays Venue on Tuesday (July 24).