February 07, 2008

Best of 2007, #9

#9: Dirty Projectors, "Rise Above"

This is another weird one. I can tell you the basic sound bite about it, which is that it's songwriter David Songstreth's attempt to record an album-length cover version of Black Flag's "Damaged" album, a punk album that he loved in middle school. And to do so from memory, without consulting lyric sheets or listening to the album. In many ways this is not information you really need to appreciate the album -- I'd never heard "Damaged" before listening to "Rise Above", though I've since listened to some of it and appreciated it in a removed fashion which is probably somewhat inappropriate for a hardcore punk album ("Hmm, that's some innovatively atonal guitar work there, yeees." [Sips tea]). Anyway, the songs have mutated to the point of being, essentially, new compositions, and those new compositions are completely removed from any normal expectations about song structure. Basically, this sounds like an album of alien pop music. (Kind of like the Harry Partch opera Rose and I saw was like alien classical music.) My friend Brendan says it reminds him of the Shaggs, a band famous for its freedom from traditional harmonies, time signatures, melodies, rhythm, synchronization, or musical ability of any sort. If you've never heard their most famous song, "My Pal Foot Foot", you should take this opportunity to do that.

The Shaggs are so bad they go straight past bad into genius. Dirty Projectors are musically gifted but just about as idiosyncratic as that, and the result is beautiful. Call and response parts come out of nowhere, on top of African highlife-sounding guitars, with strings and winds drifting in and out, in dense harmonies, with sudden abrasive jolts here and there...it's disorienting in the best way possible. There are no reference points, but it's not like being lost, it's like having infinite possibilities. Listening to it right this second, I feel like I should have ranked it higher. Why didn't I? Maybe it's that I have to be in a particular mood to want to listen to it. It's certainly an album I can't guarantee with any measure of certainty that you're going to like, despite my swooniness about it.

But hey, give it a shot. Here's "No More" and "Police Story". And here's the song that first got me hooked on Dirty Projectors, a live recording of a song from an earlier EP: "Imagine It".

Update: Here's the original (one-third as long) version of "Police Story" by Black Flag, so you can compare and contrast.

(Clicky spendy linky for the aforementioned.)

Posted by Francis at 11:11 PM

thanks for throwing up those Dirty Projectors tracks, your decription of them is identical, almost word for word, of the dead-end band Im trying to start up when I have time. Much, much better of course.
I'd never heard of them before and very rarely pay much heed to blogged music, and I'm hooked , so thanks again.
Len ( Ireland)

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