Dirty Projectors Return with a Fresh R&B Sound

David Longstreth revives his band from the brink of a breakup as an experimental pop solo project


Album: Dirty Projectors

Artist: Dirty Projectors

Label: Domino Records

Released: 2/21/17

Grade: B-

As far as musical tropes are concerned, the breakup album is not unique. Many artists in modern music have written albums featuring the theme of lost love, but what isn’t nearly as common is the subject of the record being a former member of the band.

This is a piece of the interesting puzzle that David Longstreth weaves on Dirty Projectors’ latest self-titled release.

On Dirty Projectors, Longstreth has reimagined his band as a solo project in sound, as well as out of necessity. Longstreth is the only member of Dirty Projectors remaining, following the departure of his bandmates, one of which was Longstreth’s longtime girlfriend Amber Coffman.

Coffman and her former bandmates were not the only elements of Dirty Projectors’ sound that are noticeably absent on this record.

Dirty Projectors is strikingly more synthetic than the group’s previous analog work, a stylistic shift that Longstreth seems to view as necessary.

Invoking the now infamous Migos hit “Bad and Boujee,” Longstreth wrote on Instagram that he feels as though the indie rock and pop style the band was playing on past records has become out-of-touch with its roots and just plain bad.

With that context, Longstreth’s embrace of alternative R&B in the vein of The Weeknd and How to Dress Well makes much more sense.

However, this record isn’t completely divorced from the Projectors’ former endeavors. Longstreth’s sharp songwriting skill has not dulled over the years, that is for sure. The fifth track on the record, “Little Bubble,” is a fantastic example of that.

Relying on samples of string instruments and horns, Longstreth croons his way through one of the most emotional songs on the album with a hook as catchy as it is morose. This track is also an excellent example of Longstreth’s vocal talents, as he flexes his powerful falsetto all over this track.

Longstreth also shows his experimental side on the opening track, “Keep Your Name.” On this song, Longstreth shifts the pitch of his voice down for a majority of the track, only to multitrack his own vocals on the chorus with a higher pitch.

The disorienting effect this creates is only compounded by the subtle electronic edits added to the higher pitched vocals.

Lyrically, this track is one of the more interesting on the album. It could possibly allude to the reason for Longstreth’s breakup with Coffman – a refused marriage proposal. Though it isn’t directly referenced, the song’s title is in reference to Coffman keeping her maiden name. This also explains the glitched sample of church bells at the beginning of the track.

This album is not without its emotional high points, like “Cool Your Heart,” a track featuring R&B/pop vocalist Dawn Richard.

This track has a much speedier tempo than many of the preceding tracks and features a prominent bright organ sample throughout the length of the track backed by a bustling beat composed of an assortment of clicks and bangs. Richard’s vocals add a lot to the track, and are even edited into the beat itself.

The lyrics on this song fit nicely with the mood the instrumental establishes, and Longstreth seems to come to the realization that he doesn’t need Coffman in his life to feel the happiness he found to be absent on “Little Bubble.”

This record is not perfect, unfortunately. The track “Work Together” has a beat that can be rather tedious on repeat listens, especially with the addition of vocal samples. These samples repeat ad nauseam throughout the length of the track and have a tendency to overpower Longstreth’s actual singing on top of them.

The track “Keep Your Name,” as much as I like it, is also not perfect. In the middle of the track, Longstreth begins to rap out of nowhere.

This is an absolutely jarring shift in the mood and sound of the song and it makes the track very emotionally inconsistent. The low-pitched despondent vocals on this track are not a good match for Longstreth’s goofy, yelped rapping. This is also the only track where this rapping is present.

Also, the track “Ascent Through Clouds” is almost a complete mess. Longstreth auto-tunes his voice throughout this song, which does not pair well with the prominent acoustic guitar at the beginning of the track.

Longstreth’s voice is most definitely strong enough to carry nearly any pitch he decides to sing, which makes this choice even more bizarre.

However, this track’s most egregious flaw is the strange electronic manipulations that are thrown in throughout the track. While I’m not against these edits in concept, the track builds large crescendos on multiple occasions backed with cacophonous string instrumentation that cut out without warning, leaving only these bizarre electronic edits. This kills the tension the track was building and leaves me to question exactly what Longstreth was trying to do with this song.

On Dirty Projectors, David Longstreth did his best to progress past what the titular band once was on previous albums.

Not all of his experiments are successful, but I don’t necessarily fault this record for its failings in that regard. Longstreth tried to do something legitimately new with his band and even managed to breathe unique life into an oversaturated genre of music. It isn’t perfect, but I’m glad records like Dirty Projectors exist, as they serve as reminders to other artists that it’s okay to experiment and evolve into something new.

Nick Cieri is an arts staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com