Dirty Projector's Swing Lo Magellan
1. On first listen Swing Lo
was really underwhelming. It got better the second time around and continues to slowly improve. The only track I still find outright bad and messy is Maybe That Was It
2. I wish the girls would participate more. David might be the one who choses the musical direction and writes most of the material, but I think this album is further evidence that he needs these girls as much as they need him. When they are absent on a track, the material fails to match the quality of previous moments. I credit Amber for elevate the status of an otherwise pleasant track like The Socialites
. I also credit Angel and her for giving the Dirty Projectors a significant amount of what makes them unique at first place, even though the absence of the former is not as felt as it could have been (Kudos for Swing Lo
3. David's voice has been a huge turn-off for a good amount of people, but since I've come to enjoy expressive vocals, I enjoyed his on Bitte Orca
and on most of this record. There's nothing outright unique about the use of it, just the sound and range of his voice that are strong. On Swing Lo
he seems to explore the boundary between his head voice and falsetto more than on previous ones. I believe that only The Bride
prominently featured this in Bitte Orca
. I'm ambivalent to it. It's not a turn-off, but I really think he has better moments without it.
4. I've found the album repeating and unremarkable at first. Fortunately, it has improved both of these criticisms since, but I think that the Dirty Projectors has lost something that made them more unique during this record. I can't point nor blame accessibility for it. In some of the tracks, you can replace the girls harmonies for a male and you have a potential Fleet Foxes/Grizzly Bear or favorite indie folk flavor of the month kind of track. Take them out of the record completely and moments of it borderline anonymousness. This also marries my previous point: Had Amber sang a track like Just from Chevon
, it'd have improved that great song, but instead David comes in and gives one of his more forced vocal performances on the record. His voice is more prominent throughout the record and I may grow tired of it after a while. I also wish they had used their drummer more instead of so much drum-machine. While it does fit better many of the tracks moods and structures, in some moments the drums could have been used to much better effect rather than the repetitive appearance of handclappings in its place. I understand that this has more to do with the bucolic feel they were aiming to achieve, but it ends up repetitive in time - and they have a great drummer. It feels like a breath of fresh air when strings kicks in, or distortion or even a more prominent guitar like on the aforementioned Just from Chevon
. They gain some, they lose some.
4. This takes me to the next point I've notice: I have read that the sound of this record is also a direct consequence of a desire of David to concentrate more on its lyrics. All of the other points I've argued are more a matter of my expectations and my opinion on what could have improved the record. This is the only complain I believe is more arguable: the lyrics aren't that good. I don't see the improvement over previous ones either. Even the main themes aren't distant of anything being worked today by other artists. I've read an interview by Stereogum with David and ones of the comments of the interviewer - who David agrees with - goes like this:
Right, and taking that as a line across this record, I think this album really feels like it’s embracing various complexities of a lot of things — like, for that matter, love. Like, what is perfect love, what is love, and knowing that at times it is going to be imperfect and be a challenge but that we’re going to dig in and make it work, which is sort of like what we’re trying to do as a culture with life at the moment.
I can name circa of a hundred living artists working with these themes right now. And this is also truth to any of them, so it's not a problem. The real problem hides in how the Dirty Projectors executed them. Instead of putting these same troubles under a different light and with a unique take on it, especially when taking in consideration that their press release expresses the importance of this record's lyrics, they just fail in many points. During the same interview David criticized the lyrics of a Beyoncé song, but his aren't on Fiona Apple's league neither - that worked these same exemplified topics in a brilliant and unique take this very same year. This record and the video of its first single have been rather mishandled on press. All I saw was name dropping and philosophies that in the end didn't relate in any way to what was sang about; And when they actually related, the song simplified so much of it. There's a part at the beginning of the first volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time
, Swann's Way
, that The Narrator speaks about the joy of reading on Sunday Afternoons and he affirms that the ingenuity of the first novelist lies in his understanding that the simplification and suppression of the image (the essential element of the structure of our emotions) is a decided improvement. That pictures a little of how I feel about a good amount of the lyrics on this record. I wouldn't take them so much in consideration (See my remarks on Frank Ocean bellow), but the band put them in center while speaking about the record, so I feel like in duty of discussing and criticizing it. The lyrics of Bitte Orca
weren't outstanding neither, but that album made them work placing them along with a strong and diverse wall of sound that refused put them in center - aside of Two Doves
that reworked Nico and biblical references. The simplification of something like "an exodus of the Society of the Spectacle" (used to describe the concept of Guns Has No Triggers
and its video), western philosophies and other themes discussed hurt the overall performance of the it and pushes the band closer of the strong name dropping tactics used by the likes of Lady Gaga to overrate one's own material - especially when a band like the Dirty Projectors is famous for being (or, as the ones who dislike it affirm, "struggling to be") cerebral.
5. Although is not a bad album at all, I believe Bitte Orca
was the stronger record. I can see where people are coming comparing and calling him a potential David Byrne of this generation, but I disagree with it. This David is no Byrne. The Dirty Projectors might no lack the adventurousness of the Talking Heads when it comes to experiment, but theirs lack the consistency of those records and their highs fail to match the Heads's biggest moments - it doesn't even equal Orca's
. I also believe that Byrne was a much more accomplished vocalist and knew how to work the very best of his expression on record, leaving a stronger impression. The band also had an unmatchable ability to match hooks with experiments and he sure has used much more worldly and classical influences of the art fields than the Dirty Projectors. So, I disagree with the comparisons between bands and vocalists.
6. After a few listenings, I must admit that is growing on me - although most of my criticisms on the lyrics stand still. I see it falling between a 6,5 and a solid 7 out of 10. I've enjoyed its half better than its extremes and it has some excellent moments among the good and mediocre ones. It's a weak year, it can finish inside my top 20 or even enhance with time - reaching a possible 7,5. I'm optimist about anything and this record is no exception.Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE
1. I congratulate Frank for coming out of the closet. It's arguable wether he did it for business reasons; I do see it as more genuine affair, since, when it comes to Hip Hop, coming out isn't the greatest commercial strategy - and he's also a member of Odd Future, whose Tyler The Creator has faced harsh criticism for homophobic lyrics. I think it will sure influence the way some listeners will approach the record and he even approaches the subject in some of the songs, so he probably would be outed in the long run.
2. He has a marvelous voice. But what would it account for if the material was weak? I understand the comparisons to The Weeknd, Maxwell and even Usher, but Ocean really has an incredible production and a very eclectic one. This is my favorite Hip-Hop influenced album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
and my favorite R&B record since New Amerykah, Pt 2: Return of the Ankh
3. The promotional songs were incredibly well-chosen. All of them are potential year-end best singles to me, especially Pyramids
, which remains the best of the record and its most out there track. At first I didn't like the idea of the intermissions between the songs, but I grew to enjoy some of them and not skip it while listening to the whole. I also used to think that between Sweet Life
the material was rather filler than killer, but is has also been a grower. The first half is more immediate, but I've come to terms that the second part of the record is the true grower that I didn't see coming.
4. I've read some comments which people describe Ocean's behaviour on stage when it comes to his lyrics. That is almost a "biblical" one. They're consistently great, but not outstanding. I was sure more hooked on this record because of its production, flow and his vocal deliveries first. On press, I've never seen him preach about his lyrics and I think they achieve what they aim for and work for the best on context along with its great production - unlike the Dirty Projectors who hyped theirs to rather underwhelming lyrical results. When it comes to his bissexuality, it did indirectly influence my perception of some of the songs including Thinking Bout You
. While others like Bad Religion
were more direct and successful on the subject. I also enjoyed Andre 3000's contribution afterwards on the record. Frank Ocean lyrics might lack in building an outstanding imagery with his words a good amount of times, but the production really complements and takes the best of it. Alas, it wouldn't make sense compare his songs to the ones of another 2012 gay-darling, singer-songwriter Perfume Genius - whose Put Your Back N 2 It
has been a favorite of mine this year, although it strives to put its personal imageries and message at center to mixed results. At the end of the spin, channel ORANGE
really stand on its own independently of the hype caused few weeks ago by track leaks and come outs.
5. The production is so eclectic that some of the tracks sound more forward thinking than others, especially during and after Pyramids
. Production is really the key of it. They way Frank married it with his delivery and lyrics; How some of the tracks evokes previous artists with a more modern twist; The eclecticism. I didn't feel like listening to the fulfillment of a promise, rather than a true breakthrough, the actual beginning of another bigger one; A bigger artist. The record has its underwhelming moments in comparisons to its heights, but it's never a bore. When it comes to all of this, it did reminded me of The Archandroid
. Both Monaé and Ocean were really promising from start to finish, they both were fulfilling previous material while creating new expectations and many of the weaker moments were saved by their performances.
6. After a few listenings, this album is one of my top 5 favorite albums of the year. It's a solid 8 by now and I predict it will finish a 8,5 by the time I fully digest it. I do have a fear of growing tired of its production in the long term (I'm thinking about in a few months and years while I write this, but I believe it is worth noticing that I already grew tired of Beach House's Bloom
; A still beautifully produced record that has lost a lot of its initials charms and went to seem a little hollow). I have hopes that it will retain the majority of its freshness, since, at least for now, the album shows strong signs that it will. The year has got, once again, more exciting than in previous incarnations.
Edit: Some English mistakes.
“Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.”
― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit