Laura Green ‘18 Arts Editor
Dirty Projectors’s self-titled album spares no details in revealing the tumultuous break up between frontman Dave Longstreth and his former bandmate and girlfriend Amber Coffman. After more than a decade of consistently changing members under the leadership of Longstreth, Dirty Projectors now consists of only Longstreth himself. In the context of the brutal heartbreak evident in every song on the album, it’s hard not to feel a sense of loneliness when listening to “Dirty Projectors.”
Longstreth continuously manipulates, distorts and multiplies his voice as if he is deeply aware of Coffman’s missing harmonies and is trying to make up for it. At times, the album can feel overworked, without the ease of 2012 album “Swing Lo Magellan.” However, each Dirty Projectors’ album has a distinct sound to it, as Longstreth and his collaborators continue to take inspiration from new sources. In this way, “Dirty Projectors” is a continuation of Longstreth’s evolution as an artist, although the change can be seen as catalyzed by Coffman’s departure from the band. The album is an experiment in what Longstreth can do as a solo artist at this point in his career.
The music is heavy, with Longstreth fully embracing his pain and incorporating it into every part of the album. The only song that differs significantly from the rest of the album in this respect is standout “Cool Your Heart,” which was co-written by Solange Knowles. The song has a sense of freeness lacking from other parts of the album, particularly due to guest vocals by R&B singer Dawn Richard. The female vocals and feel-good attitude are a welcome break from the sadness by the end of the album. This song succeeds because it represents the marriage of multiple collaborators coming in with their own distinct styles, a context in which Longstreth is most successful.
All this is not to say, however, that Longstreth is not interesting and dynamic in his heartbreak-laden pop-yet-not-pop songs. “Little Bubble” is a stunningly beautiful song about the intimate bond between two people that is suddenly broken apart, leaving one wondering, “How did you sleep? / What did you dream of?” while hoping for “sleep with no dreams.” I’m hit deeply when he pauses between singing the lines “We had our own little bubble / For awhile,” as if he cruelly reminds himself each time of what he has lost. There is a softness and vulnerability in this song, both through his voice and the simple piano line, more so than in any other on the album.
“Keep Your Name” also has a raw sadness in it, yet it is more intense, revealing his simultaneous anger at himself and Coffman. In this opening track, which was the first single released from the album, Longstreth leaves no doubt as to whom the album is about when he sings, “What I want from art is truth/What you want is fame,” bitingly referring to the difficulties in both their working and intimate relationship. When he repeats, “you keep your name,” referencing the failed potential marriage, the intense pain of losing such a significant person is palpable.
Overall, “Dirty Projectors” is a complex, immense album with many layers to discover, lyrically and musically, upon each listen. It’s an album that needs to be listened to many times to fully appreciate. Yes, the album is sad, but there is so much beauty in the sadness.