Now essentially a solo project of David Longstreth, the “Dirty Projectors” as an art project are in a state quite similar to Longstreth’s personal life. Having just gone through a break-up with former band member Amber Coffman, both Longstreth and his “band” are feeling lonely and torn apart. As a result, Dirty Projectors is a breakup album. The very first lyrics evoke those initial thoughts when part of your being has been ripped out: “I don’t know why you abandoned me/You were my soul and my partner.” Later, Longstreth reminisces on the beginning of their relationship, talks about the pointless fights, and victoriously finds some sense of moving on by the end. Sonically, the record almost sounds like a Bon Iver cover version of Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreaks; or perhaps just a glitchy pop aura with some fake rapping and funk riffage questioning whether or not Longstreth is worthy of the alternative R&B tag. It’s a beautifully displaced piece that finds a unique, but sensible place in the contemporary musical moment.
As stated, “Keep Your Name” jumps into the main subject matter rather quickly. We open with these hymnal, pitched-down vocals over piano before somber backing vocals come into play with the establishment of the unwavering, slow beat. Rounding out at only nine relatively long tracks, the album features a lot of contrast within the bounds of each song—which is exemplified here. In the bridge of the track, there’s a bit of a breakdown and the pitching of the vocals is changed with each phrase, which feeds into the slight narrative element of the lyrics. Longstreth goes through some negative self-reflection, uttering phrases like “I don’t think I ever loved you” or “I wasn’t there for you/I didn’t pay attention.” With the different pitchings from line to line, it almost sounds like different characters within Longstreth’s mind battling about what went wrong.
“Death Spiral” flashes back to within the relationship, when they realized that their love was in its final stages: “it’s final Death spiral.” It’s interesting how Longstreth seems to be pulling quotes from various stages of his break-up process. In the beginning of this track he seems to place the blame on his former partner: “you wanna blow us up,” contradicting his biting self-hate on the previous track. “I don’t know your state of mind, mine’s good, bye” Longstreth later lies (I don’t think we’d have this album if that were true). This idea of mixing different parts of the break-up process also plays into the general timeline of the album. We open with his intial reactions, then jump into the very end of the relationship, before getting a bit of background on “Up in Hudson.” Sonically, this song incorporates some awesome rhythmic texture to complement the raucous mass of melodic motion and occasional touch of Yeezus horn-blast.
In the middle of the album, Longstreth jumps between good and bad moments in the relationship for a handful of tracks. “Work Together” and “Winner Take Nothing” address arguments and how he and his partner won’t get anywhere without working together, whereas “Little Bubble” touches upon waking up next to each other, and the points in their relationship where they felt as though they had crafted their own little world. “Cool Your Heart” seems to be Longstreth’s moment of rejuvenation. Sporting an awesome feature from D∆WN, Longstreth victoriously announces “Last night, I realized it’s been feeling wrong/To start relying, making decisions based on another person” and joins in on the infectious hook.
The lyrics are definitely a bit blunt and occasionally drab. Longstreth isn’t exactly coating his story in glossy language or esoteric metaphor, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the occasional “I was listening to Kanye”-esque line tries a bit too hard to relate to the millennial crowd he just recently bashed. The sonics of the record also have spots that shine more than others. “Little Bubble” features an acoustic moment between violin and piano that breaks up the general glitchiness of the album quite nicely. “Cool Your Heart” is fantastic all around, and the last track offers some soaring instrumental melodies. On the other hand, “Up in Hudson” seems to be a bit too lyrically driven, making the melody overly idiosyncratic. Still, the record comes together nicely with emotional depth and biting songwriting.