Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors Roundtable Review

Dirty Projectors self titled

Dirty Projectors new album has been on everyone's minds, so of course, we had to Roundtable it.
Domino, 2017
Purchase: Amazon

6.1 / 10

Welcome to another Earbuddy Roundtable Review. To explain, Earbuddy assembles three or more writers to discuss a new album with each writer giving his/her thoughts on the release and their own personal score. Then an average score is determined for the album overall. For our latest Roundtable, Earbuddy writers Nick Krenn, John Downey, Aaron Kolarcik, and Jay Downey will be reviewing Dirty Projectors‘ self-titled album.

Album Background

The hype behind Dirty Projectors’ self-titled album all began with a single song. Last September Projectors’ mastermind Dave Longstreth dropped the new song, “Keep Your Name”. It was mysterious and raised many questions. First question: is a new Dirty Projectors album coming? Well, we know the answer to that one. Second: is this song referencing Longstreth’s break-up with former Projector’s member Amber Coffman? Uh…big YES to that one. Third: why are Longstreth’s vocals all warped? My favorite comment about this was some random Facebook user, who said Longstreth was using the Toad Snapchat Filter for the effect on his voice. Finally, is Longstreth already out of new ideas? In “Keep Your Name”, he samples the Swing Lo Magellan song, “Impregnable Question”. Any unanswered question is finally resolved with the release of Dirty Projectors.

Nick Krenn:

Is Dirty Projectors this year’s Lemonade? No. Sure, there are some similarities. The album deals with an intimate relationship; though, Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman were never married. Longstreth goes through a full spectrum of emotions from anger to sadness to acceptance and finally empowerment. The album also feels grand and could be the boldest statement from the Dirty Projectors yet. Where the two albums differ is that there is no implied wrongdoing on Coffman’s part other than she wanted to pursue her own ambitions. And Longstreth is a man. Speaking as a man, we sometimes aren’t the most sympathetic creatures.

To his credit, Longstreth does a good job of taking blame for his part in the relationship’s demise. He sings, “Or how I never learned to let you breathe/ Condescended relentlessly,” on “Death Spiral”. Frankly it’s easy to imagine Longstreth being a condescending asshole. It’s even easier after his recent back-and-forth with Robin Pecknold, discussing if indie music is “both bad and boujee.” But for all the times Longstreth takes blame, he also takes shots at Coffman and paints her as an egotistical, fame starved musician. She wants to be mainstream, but Longstreth is indie all the way. Okay, Dave; slow down a little.

Dirty Projectors is a staple of independent music. Dirty Projectors has mainstream ambitions of its own though. Kanye West, perhaps the biggest rapper in the world, is a main influence on the album. He is referenced by Longstreth throughout. Longstreth even modifies his vocals similar to West’s album, 808s & Heartbreak, another breakup album. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Aside from West, hip hop and R&B in general play as a major influence on the album. Whereas past Dirty Projectors albums felt grounded in rock, Longstreth has upped his production game with solid beats and deft swagger. Longstreth even seems to cop some of Kendrick Lamar’s vocal style on “Work Together”.

As a concept album, Dirty Projectors excels in having a true beginning, middle, and end. The beginning being the bitter breakup. The middle being Longstreth’s lament of the relationship and acceptance of its demise. The end being Longstreth’s ability to finally move on and find peace. The album also puts meaning behind the project’s name and why this album is self-titled after so many previous DP albums. The album’s final song, “I See You”, is a true finale to what’s come before it. The song is a payoff of peace and reconciliation between the two musicians and former lovers, “The projection is fading away/ And in its place, I see you.” The projection was once dirty, and now it’s gone. It should be noted that Longstreth is producing Coffman’s upcoming solo debut album.

Dirty Projectors works as a time capsule for a moment in Dave Longstreth’s life. The real question is does this album maintain relevance in the future? Will listeners still flock to it after this year with all of its concrete details, especially as Longstreth and Coffman move on with their lives and gain new lovers and new drama? The concrete details help in fleshing out the album as very personal to Longstreth, but some vagueness could have allowed more connection from its audience. Musically, this could be the best work of Longstreth’s career. All ears will be on his next release. Dirty Projectors is unfair to Coffman in that sense. Longstreth can just move on from this album. But the shadow of Dirty Projectors, the band and this album, will always be referenced in Coffman’s future success.

Nick’s Score: 8.8

John Downey:

What’s so good about Dirty Projectors? The easy answer, the one that goes over well with hipsters when put on a byline, is that their brand of experimental, baroque pop at once draws influence from the greatest musicians of the past as well as carves out its own unique path for themselves. That’s not incorrect, but that describes, like, twenty other Brooklyn acts (just typing that made me feel dirty). To me, Dirty Projectors have been worth celebrating because of the joy they convey.

Their music sounds like it was just as fun to make as it is to listen to, and while Dave Longstreth could be counted on to lay a solid foundation for his revolving door of collaborators to do their thang (when he wasn’t too engaged with overly-ambitious concepts), it is Amber Coffman’s smooth, confident vocals that come to mind when I think of Dirty Projectors. She’s front and center on their signature song, “Stillness Is the Move”, a happy ditty about how easy it is to live with anxiety because she’s wholly aware of how much beauty is in the world. That’s prime Dirty Projectors: easily digestible but still busy pop that is hard not to like.

Dirty Projectors is not Dirty Projectors. I mean, I suppose it is to some degree because Longstreth is at the helm, but Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors is a downbeat breakup album with heavy R&B elements in which Longstreth hyperfocuses on his anxieties. Coffman is out, because of course she is; Longstreth opens the album by warbling “I don’t know why you abandoned me“. The signature DP pose of a red and blue soul connected in odd ways (see the covers of Slaves’ Graves & Ballads and Bitte Orca) is represented on Dirty Projectors‘s cover as a thoroughly broken thing laid bare. The only way this could have been less of a Dirty Projectors album would be if Gucci Mane guested.

There’s nothing wrong with a change of pace, of course, and certainly nothing wrong with putting out a breakup album, but Longstreth’s version of a breakup album is a stereotypical version of a breakup album, boringly forlorn and mistaking specificity for intimacy (no, I don’t give a fuck about what Kanye song he was listening to at a key junction in his life). “Death Spiral” sounds like a shitty remix of a Justin Timberlake joint that has been up on SoundCloud for four years with less than three hunded listens. “Up In Hudson” is worse because Longstreth believes that warbling electronica can occupy his warbling voice for seven minutes on the same jam without giving me Kid Cudi flashbacks (that’s a bad thing). He’s mistaken being odd for being interesting, and the result is an album of self-indulgent filth of a thoroughly uninteresting manner.

Or it would if a whole third of it weren’t actually really good. Three late consecutive tracks (“Winner Take Nothing”, “Ascent Through Clouds”, and “Cool Your Heart”) give a look into the weirdo masterpiece this could have been, if Longstreth had done more to conjure pop thrills on Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors, if he had remembered he has an audience to appease and answer to, if he remembered that Dirty Projectors, at its best, has been about more than just him. Those three songs single-handedly elevate Dirty Projectors by Dirty Projectors from being a shitshow to being frustrating, which is a word that’s rarely described Dirty Projectors before Dirty Projectors. Perhaps, on Dirty Projectors 2, Longstreth will land on being thoroughly average. I’d like to think he will, if only for optimism’s sake.

John’s Score: 3.6

Aaron Kolarcik:

I have felt intimately connected with the Dirty Projectors’ music since I first heard Bitte Orca and have been continuously interested in the interplay between the members of what was then a supergroup. As Angel Deradoorian, and then Amber Coffman dropped out, you could hear the Dirty Projectors’ sound return to it’s more unhinged and indulgent format like in The Getty Address and The Glad Fact. Of course, the production is miles ahead of Dave Longstreth’s past work. Now it is clear where everyone’s strengths lie.

For instance, Dave Longstreth is highly conceptual, almost to a fault. The album’s theme of brokenness is expressed evocatively everywhere. From the stuttering drums on “Cool your Heart” to the strange, pitched-down and then rapped vocals on the opener “Keep your Name” to the peaked out electronics on “Winner Take Nothing”. For the most part, the experimentation is cathartic and gratifying. However, certain songs like “Winner Take Nothing” particularly sounds grating and indulgent. He is lacking the dialectical counterbalance that made the Dirty Projectors so engaging in it’s heyday. In other words, he is lacking Amber Coffman.

This also means Dirty Projectors, the album, is lacking some of gorgeous guitar work from their previous projects. Its absence has allowed Longstreth to explore a challenging Alt R&B sound previously hinted at before but never committed to. The result on tracks like “Death Spiral” and “Little Bubble” is very sexy and slick.

The album concludes with Longstreth crooning, “The projection is fading away,” against the world’s loneliest call and response. It leaves me feeling empty and uncertain about the future of a project I have adored for so many years. In this context the line, “You’ll go forwards and I’ll stay the same,” seems aimed at me as the listener as much as it is surely aimed at Amber Coffman. The group shot into the clouds and exploded as brilliantly as any firework. Now we are left with these fragments that feel pieced together haphazardly and incompletely, experimentation without heart, a band without members, red without blue.

Aaron’s Score: 7.0

Jay Downey:

If we forget its subject and intention, Dirty Projectors’ Dirty Projectors is sonically the best album the band(?) has ever recorded. Although on paper the “group” has its original founding member Dave Longstreth flying solo, over 15 people contributed to the sounds on this album. It’s difficult to determine where each musician’s performance ends and Longstreth’s audio manipulation begins, which makes for an incredible experience. If he wasn’t there before, this places Longstreth into the Oberst/Eno/Sufjan MEGAMIND tier. Dirty Projectors takes its prior releases into account and further digs into Afro/R&B beats by counting in threes instead of fours and while masking it with Panda Bear/Brian Wilson rounds of harmony.

All that being said, this album couldn’t exist without that prior work. Longstreth uses that fact to its furthest extent by making himself and the group his lyrical subjects and main source of content. This is nothing new. Sun Kil Moon did it with Benji. Kanye does it in… every song. Hell, T Swift dun it, ‘n she hates Ye. In some way its almost impossible for an artist to completely separate oneself from their work. If there is an issue here, that’s not the debate. The discussion should be about the shift we’re hearing from indie artists merging with popularity.

Making Amber Coffman a prime songwriting subject on this record the same year they both release albums should grant some attention. We can assume they’re both cool with writing about the other, or think there’s some bad blood fueling their material. Either way this creates a real life gossip, and people LOVE hypothesizing these stories. It’s fun. In a way I’m doing it right now, although John might disagree. Unless I continue to write about him. Which I won’t. But by putting my brother in this review, it helps create an idea of the relationship we may have as siblings who both contribute to the same review site. Oh well, I did it anyhow.

In the end, every commercial artist needs to make money off the music they create. I’m glad to see Dirty Projectors and their contributors succeed at this. After all, don’t we all wanna be a lil more like Kanye and a little less relevant and poor? Let those bedroom artists, basement rockers, and local cyphers do the real thinking. Maybe they’ll be invited to do a session for the next single eventually.

Jay’s Score: 5.0

Final Score

6.1 / 10

About NK

I founded Earbuddy to turn you onto excellent music and give fair, unbiased, and honest music reviews. Hit me up on Twitter @earbuddy if you want to chat about music, disagree with what I've written here, or talk about anything else.