Dirty Projectors at The Independent
By Oscar Medina
Photos by Christopher Musgrave
April 11, 2008
Better than: Many bands riding the afro pop wave in indie rock, cue Vampire Weekend.
The Brooklyn avant-pop outfit Dirty Projectors brought their art damaged pop tomes to the Independent last night to promote their latest record “Rise Above," an album that has confounded critics and listeners alike with it’s oblique combination of disparate strands of musical DNA, referencing everything from Congolese pop to the work of Gustav Mahler to early R n’ B and Soul.
What began for lead singer/guitarist David Longstreth as an encounter with an empty cassette case of Black Flag’s classic “Damaged” record turned into the basic building blocks of “Rise Above."
On stage, The Dirty Projectors emanate an affable, casual simplicity that in no way resembles the music they make. Playing a set culled largely from “Rise Above” and the earlier EPs, their songs veered from operatic-tinged math rock, to afro-pop, to a wildly skewed take on indie-rock.
The Dirty Projectors, for all their musical cross-referencing that can easily come across to many as simply post-modern posturing, actually do in fact ROCK. In listening to the record one can be easily deceived into believing that their live show would be the equivalent of an soporific art school exhibit but it is quite the opposite.
For the unabashed mess that many may call their music, their live show is an exhilarating exercise of balance and proportion, pathos and energy. Songs careen forward and sideways, tease out subtle movements between the vocal counterpoint of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian, and the latticed guitar work of Longstreth. Longstreth resembles a young wiry David Byrne, clad in a black hoodie and dark jeans, his left hand would spasmodically work up and down the neck of his guitar, emanating modal guitar squalls that intersected with Brian McComber's frantic drum rhythms.
The crowd responded well to the Projectors' sudden and wild explorations into the less structured side of their songs. Why ? Well, for all their forays into post-punk avant garde jam suites they would return to form with plaintive pop harmonies and structured melodic hooks.
The impressive part of their process is that the music remains staunchly inventive, their curiosity is palpable as evinced by the fact that you can never really predict where the songs will go. What may start off as pleasant gossamer indie-pop, will suddenly move into clanging industrial no-wave yelps, all within the same song and done in a way that sounded as if mixing these things were the most natural thing in the world. Usually bands that play the genre-bending card either compromise the original sources, or fall into the trap of xeroxing their influences so that it prevents any form of original musical expression. The Dirty Projectors have found a way to eschew both traps by simply not caring; but by simply allowing the songs to breathe naturally and take themselves where they need to be taken.
Personal Bias: Bands with complex harmonic arrangements do something special to me.
By The Way: I have been to the Independent many times and the sound is always good, but after last night, the sound engineers deserve a raise.