Every word, rhythm, and melody that seeps from David Longstreth’s brain reeks of insincerity and pompousness. The most recent fruit of his ego, Bitte Orca, has come to be pornography for writers and aimless hipsters hungry for something “eccentric” and “unusual” over which they may pant. In truth, it’s a dull and transparent mish-mash of pop styles seasoned with empty gestures and overwrought arrangements.
That self-important musicians are writing and performing angular pop because it’s experimental, man doesn’t surprise me. People without ideas or genuine motives are constantly creating all kinds of art and entertainment for all kinds of reasons, but most of them don’t become self-righteous monstrosities and generate critical behemoths like Bitte Orca. Praised for its ostensibly experimental character and thoughtful arrangements, in actuality the Dirty Projectors’ latest is little more than a masturbatory device for a faux-intellectual lead man with delusions of grandeur. Dusted Magazine’s Bill Meyer was right in calling out Longstreth’s personality in his review of the album because it bleeds through the music like a cut that won’t heal. He’s a shameless and distasteful self-promoter carrying an air of superiority around on his back like a cross made from iron.
That fact wouldn’t matter so much if it didn’t come out in the music the way it does. Plenty of smug jerks have written perfectly good music with a few words from James Joyce, William Blake, or some other iconic artist swimming around in their head. But, the Dirty Projectors sound like a band forcing themselves through odd meters and off-kilter harmonies. The music wants to spread its wings and fly, but the band has tied a ten-ton stone of musical bravado to their performances for no other reason than that they’re capable of doing so. In addition, Longstreth can’t sing to save his life and when any of the three female members take the lead vocal role they put on a cute and vacant quality that is more repulsive than attractive. One must assume from reports that this is all Longstreth’s doing. He desires nothing more than to make his meticulously designed arrangements sound like spontaneous and joyful music, but like the singing the music is an empty shell of styles compressed and slapped together for the pleasure of compressing and slapping things together. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this and such playfulness has likely spawned plenty of great ideas, songs, and albums, but over its 40 minutes Bitte Orca travels nowhere and develops little more than a sugar-rich stomach ache. Throughout the record over-the-top four-part vocal harmonies clash with haphazard string arrangements, a semi-irregular, half-danceable rhythm section, and dynamic shifts that might surprise someone unfamiliar with Slint. On the surface it’s all very surprising and unique, but with time it sinks in and becomes all too familiar. I’ve heard this sort of thing from more competent bands. None of them are particularly obscure and many of them were exploring disparate musical styles before Longstreth was even born, which makes all the talk of inventiveness associated with this record even more null and void.
Of all the songs, only “Two Doves” exhibits the restraint necessary to blend pop music with big ideas. Though it pretends a kind of baroque or classical influence, it’s a pleasant song in which Longstreth’s predisposition for highbrow indulgence is succumbed by a sweet melody and a hint of genuine emotion. No amount of planning, scripting, rehearsing, or reading can possibly be a substitute for that one important ingredient: honesty. A little mental instability might not hurt, but Longstreth could only hope to be as insane as his heroes. Pretending a reclusive and unstable mental disposition may be his next move, though. I can see it, now: the New York Times reports that Longstreth has surrounded his musical equipment with relics from the Nietzsche estate and plans on releasing a pop opus titled Glory to God and His Unwilling Participants. Wouldn’t that be wacky, fun, and smart?
I’ll apologize if this happens. It wouldn’t surprise me if Longstreth attempts it.