Swing Lo Magellan – Dirty Projectors Album Review
Seeking to unburden itself of the weight of ideas that – for better or worse – have defined preceding Dirty Projectors releases, Swing Lo Magellan finds David Longstreth’s band expressing a simplicity that will likely render them an easier prospect for first time listeners, but which falls short of the near flawless head-heart balance of 2009’s Bitte Orca.
“The Vulture feels that it will come to be seen less as a bold reimagining of what came before, than as a dilution.”
Opening with handclaps and hummed harmonies that recall the kind of spirituals name-checked in the album’s title, moments throughout Swing Lo nod towards traditional American styles, fusing them simultaneously with more contemporary elements as well as with die-hard traces of Dirty Projectors’ habitual eclecticism.
‘Just from Chevron’ backs close country harmonies up against restrained flourishes of the skittering, Ali Farka Touré-inspired guitar already familiar to fans of Swing Lo’s immediate predecessors, and precisely emphatic, unobtrusive percussion. The track is one of the album’s purest successes, with tracks elsewhere failing to knit ideas together with as much coherency: the on/off dynamic of ‘Offspring Are Blank’ feels unpolished, as does the affected looseness of ‘Unto Caesar’ with its inserted recordings of studio chatter.
Longstreth’s description of the album as “unbleached fucking leather, or untreated wood that’s warping in the elements” – as distinct from the “bright, iridescent surfaces” of Bitte Orca – feels like an odd assessment of Swing Lo in its state of completion: phrased rather as having been a guiding aesthetic to the recording, it perhaps would have been audible in the conscious drive towards simplicity displayed by the album. With as much stylistic diversity as makes itself felt throughout, however, Swing Lo has not wholly divested itself of iridescence so much as it has attempted, with partial success, to suppress it.
Displaying moments of brilliance as may reasonably be expected of the band – not least the tense, understated and perfectly arranged single ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ – Swing Lo Magellan nonetheless finds Dirty Projectors failing to live up to the legacy set by Bitte Orca; an album that beautifully balances the complexity and idiosyncrasy of Longstreth’s ideas with pop bombast and accessibility.
In its simplicity, Swing Lo will no doubt prove itself less divisive than Dirty Projectors’ previous output. In the broader scheme of that output though, The Vulture feels that it will come to be seen less as a bold reimagining of what came before, than as a dilution.