Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

by Jack Diablo

Release Date: June 9, 2009
Label: Domino Records
After reviewing Angel Deradoorian’s solo album, it only made sense to check out Bitte Orca, the latest release from the band she sings back up for. Dirty Projectors is more of a collective than a traditional band, replete with an ever-changing roster led by frontman Dave Longstreth. With a discography including a concept album about Don Henley of the Eagles and another of Black Flag covers, one could only expect this to be a foray into something quite fascinating at the very least.
The album is an experiment in what can only be called freak-R&B. Think of what Devendra Banhart does with folk music and apply the vocally-centric aesthetic of R&B with some beautifully bizarre instrumentation and rhythmic chaos. Many are already touting it as the best album of the year so far or at least a close second to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. While this reviewer will neither confirm nor deny that claim, it is wonderfully original, one of those rare albums that reveals its subtle but intricate layers with each successive listen.
Although it often revels in what some may consider a level of obscure pretension in terms of sound, Dirty Projectors are more accessible and familiar than the bulk of that which bears the label “experimental.” Nevertheless, Bitte Orca still delights in its own sonic schizophrenia. Seriously, this album is all over the place. The opening track, ‘Cannibal Resource’ is a good indication of what you are getting yourself into by exploring this album. But it’s just the start. Syncopation and a heavy-handed use of the fermata continue into the stand-out track, ‘Temecula Sunrise,’ which begins with a delicious guitar-picking solo followed by dizzying tempo changes and upbeat accents. ‘Two Doves,’ as sung by Angel Deradoorian with its gentle guitar and violin accompaniment, is easily the most digestible track, bearing a striking resemblance to Nico’s ‘The Fairest Of The Seasons.’ Perhaps a little too close at first, it quickly finds its own unique voice. But just when you think you’ve got this one pegged, ‘Useful Chamber’ picks things right back up to deliver a healthy dose of mercurial unpredictability.
Despite the eccentricity of the music, the lyrics are pretty straight-forward and of the heart in perfect R&B fashion as heard on ‘Stillness Is The Move.’ On this track, Longstreth takes a backseat to his female backup singers, allowing them to take the lead. Chief among them is Amber Coffman, whose subtle lisp and ability to reach registers previously reserved for the likes of Mariah or Whitney make for an alluring witch’s brew of peculiar elegance. Some of the lyrics on this album are so absurdly banal that they become ironically original when sung with such feeling as on the aforementioned ‘Temecula Sunrise’ – “I live in a new construction home / I live on the strip beyond the dealership, yeah.”
It is, if nothing else, refreshing that something so offbeat is able to garner the impressive array of laurels that this album has received. Of course the possibility remains that Bitte Orca will leave you scratching your head, but with an open mind you might just have a little fun.