I often wonder why bands regularly take well over three years to release an album. I’m shocked that it takes musicians several years to make shit like this. But after one listen of Swing Lo Magellan, I immediately understood why it’s taken over three years to follow up the wonderful Bitte Orca, because this is the some of the most elaborate and complex and beautiful music I’ve ever heard. On the other hand, Swing Lo Magellan is also very playful, and the band makes it seem like making this stuff is something they could do in their sleep. It’s as if they just threw it together in a few hours. This album is so playful, in fact, that a couple of songs include recorded studio conversations, which don’t actually sound like much, but for a band with such intricate melodies who obviously work so hard to perfect just one simple riff, they are really letting down their hair.
Most indie frontmen don’t simply sing – not even the big ones – many shout (Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse), many talk fast (Dave Portner of Animal Collective) and many whisper and mumble (Conor Oberst). David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, on the other hand, is one of the few frontmen with an absolutely breathtaking and jaw dropping voice, and he definitely knows how to use it. Amber Coffman, who also shares vocal duty, does an amazing job making us all totally forget about Angel Deradoorian (who left the band before the recording of Swing Lo Magellan) with her angelic voice. The one track that Amber fronts, “The Socialites”, is also a big standout on the album.
This album reminds me a lot of Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear; each song has its own musical style and goes down a different path; every song is warm and has interlocking arrangements featuring singers that care almost too much. But, the primary reason I make this comparison is to prove that this is real, beautiful music with no studio trickery, just good musicianship and beautiful voices. Plain and simple.
Dirty Projectors are known for their avant-garde musicianship, but with Swing Lo Magellan the approach is much more straightforward, which is why it’s so weird that the music is more affective and striking than ever before. There are so many moments on Swing Lo Magellan that just make me excited to be listening, and there are so many elements that go into it. The very opening of this album isn’t the sound of a rusty gate, but what actually sounds like a Timbaland-produced beat, which is a massive surprise to hear within the opening seconds. But don’t get used to the grandeur that dominated Bitte Orca, because Swing Lo Magellan quickly goes from big to modest, which is a good thing. These songs don’t need to be expanded with epic, immense moments.
This collection of songs holds up both as single tracks and together as the most well crafted Dirty Projectors album to date. Before listening, you can’t imagine that it’d be as amazing and the almost perfect listening experience that it is. Somewhere within the vastness of the ever changing album themes, intricate guitar riffs, and la-di-dah instruments I’ve never heard of, there’s got to be one sound that’s just a bit off, just one moment that isn’t perfect. It’s difficult to find one. Like The Walkmen’s Heaven, this is some of the most pleasant, desirable and inoffensive music ever created. With similarities to Paul Simon, David Byrne, and a ton of pop music, how can anybody not like this?