- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dirty Projectors

Bitte Orca

Domino Records

Until now, the polite euphemism for the Dirty Projectors’ collected output has been “eclectic.” The more accurate way to describe frontman Dave Longstreth’s spastic indie-folk project, though, was just plain weird.

On any given track, Mr. Longstreth was just as likely to forge a beautiful string and woodwind arrangement as to mumble, in a voice distorted by a cheap microphone, “I have layers and layers of onion skin” over a beat that sounded like a wooden spoon spanking a kitchen pot, as on “Grandfather’s Jacket,” off 2003’s “Morning Better Last!” Mr. Longstreth had great ideas as well as strange ones, but rarely bothered to differentiate between the two.

But on “Bitte Orca,” the band’s fifth full-length album, Mr. Longstreth and his band mates seem to have found a way to balance out the odd with the amazing — and infuse it with a marvelous sense of dramatic energy.

Dirty Projectors evolved out of Mr. Longstreth’s experiments with home-recorded music. At first, he played most of the instruments himself. Later records saw the addition of a rotating cast of studio and touring musicians, though Mr. Longstreth remained the primary creative force.

All the early records had a different focus, but each bore a handful of his experimental signatures: warbly vocals; unusual but elegant arrangements; an off-kilter balance of low- and hi-fi, effortless grace mixed with intentionally jarring moments.

It was intriguing and, from time to time, mesmerizing. Certainly, it showed great potential. But it wasn’t for everyone. Between 2007’s “Rise Above” and “Bitte Orca,” however, the band seems to have hit a magnificent stride.

Part of that may be due to the relative consistency of the band’s lineup: “Rise Above” collaborators Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Brian Mcomber have returned, joined here by newcomers Nat Baldwin and Haley Dekle. Mr. Longstreth’s signature careening vocals are still evident, as are his intricate arrangements, but, likely due to the influence of the other band members, the album feels fuller and more collaborative than any before it.

As on previous records, the band samples from a vast buffet of influences — dance, hip-hop, folk, and world music all play a part. But this time it all holds together. Indeed, the album’s combined range and coherence is one of its most impressive qualities. “Bitte Orca” moves expertly from the drop-dead, dance-floor killer “Stillness is the Move” to “Two Doves,” a subtle and lovely acoustic guitar and string ballad sung by Ms. Deradoorian.

Moreover, there are numerous drastic shifts of tone throughout the album, some of which occur mid-song, and while they’re all wild and highly dramatic, none seem the least bit out of place: The control on display is breathtaking.

Thanks to that finesse, “Bitte Orca” is indeed a wily and, yes, genuinely eclectic album. But this time the word that best defines the record isn’t weird: It’s brilliant.

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