Dirty Projectors and Wye Oak
In keeping with a long tradition of celebrating iconoclastic music, Ballroom Marfa welcomed Dirty Projectors to the Crowley Theater in Marfa.
Dirty Projectors is the project of Dave Longstreth and a revolving cast of collaborators. For the album, Swing Low Magellan and for this performance, Longstreth was joined by Amber Coffman (vocals & guitar), Nat Baldwin (bass), Brian Omber (drums) and Haley Dekle (vocals). As part of the performance in Marfa, the band performed a live rendition of these new works. Dirty Projectors was joined by Baltimore’s Wye Oak, the duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack.
Longstreth has an established history of creating genre-hopping — or perhaps genre-defying — compositions. In a review of Dirty Projectors’ 2007 album Rise Above, Pitchfork calls the man a visionary “so full of bright ideas he can barely keep his shit together.”
This is a band that released the aforementioned LP — a re-imagining of the classic album from Los Angeles hardcore heroes Black Flag — yet also garners comparisons to such disparate artists as Phish, The Police, Animal Collective, Tim Buckley and Squeeze. And then, of course, there are the sonic allusions of West African pop, remixes for contemporary psychedelic drone outfit White Rainbow, and compositional references to contrapuntal Renaissance music. And then Longstreth himself likes to name-check James Joyce, Richard Wagner and John Coltrane.
Suffice it to say, Dirty Projectors are not easy to pin down, or as Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear put it regarding their lauded 2009 album, Bitte Orca, “it’s so distinctly Dirty Projectors that I didn’t even know how to begin to describe what genre it is.” The album was a breakthrough smash, landing on year-end charts from across the internet to mainstream outlets such as Time, leading to shows around the world and collaborations with The Roots and David Byrne.
The follow-up to Bitte Orca saw Dirty Projectors collaborating with Björk on Mount Wittenberg Orca, an EP inspired by guitarist Amber Coffman’s walk atop the titular peak at the Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California. These songs are both about the whales that Coffman saw on her hike, as well as sung by Björk from the perspective of the whales themselves. The band went on to donate $60,000 generated from sales of the release to a National Geographic charity concerned with the preservation of ocean reefs.
The latest release for Longstreth and company, due out on July 10, is Swing Lo Magellan, a project he describes as being “an album of songs, an album of songwriting.” Here the Dirty Projectors seem to be shifting gears from the wondrous complexities of past efforts, going for a simple approach, a conspicuous foregrounding of the anthemic choruses, and tender sentiments that have always swirled behind the band’s mesmerizing arrangements.
Wye Oak’s music sits on the same shelf as artists like Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and Neil Young, all artists able to navigate between sparse emotional resonance and soaring choruses. Stack’s drums and keyboards lay the groundwork while Wasner switches her guitar between gentle strummed drones and sky-filling waves of shoegaze melody. Her voice is well-matched to her instrument, by turns soothing, sensually weary and martial. Their third full-length release, Civilian, was selected by the A.V. Club as the best album of 2011.