Album Of The Week

Goodbye letter to a love lost

David Longstreth sings passionately on Dirty Projectors.
David Longstreth sings passionately on Dirty Projectors.PHOTO: DOMINO

Frontman David Longstreth airs his break-up with ex-bandmate Amber Coffman on Dirty Projectors' new album

INDIE ROCK/R&B

DIRTY PROJECTORS

Dirty Projectors

Domino

4/5 stars


Dirty Projectors

Break-ups can often be messy, vindictive, invigorating and disruptive. The seventh studio release by Brooklyn band Dirty Projectors is, gloriously, all of these things.

Head Projector David Longstreth chronicles his split from ex-bandmate Amber Coffman in lurid detail right from the start - although in recent interviews, he insists the record is less journal than metaphor for, say, Brexit and such.

Who is he kidding? In the past, Longstreth exercised his hyper- energetic antics with a carousel of members, but this time, he is exorcising his demons publicly and by himself.

The results sound like a playground of a pop savant whose heart has been broken.

Up In Hudson exemplifies alternative R&B, with rhythms cut up and the blues amped up. Pitched as a goodbye letter to "the Obama years, a generation of indie rock and to a relationship", it is an elegy rewired with mixed feelings. His singing is shot through with ardour, while the music swings from horn-fuelled anthem to warped electronica.

Sampling Peggy Seeger's folk-song rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, he turns the song into a roller-coaster ride, declaiming that "love's gonna rot/Love will just dissipate", over motorik beats and samba percussion. There is bitterness, pain and anger, all right, but there is obvious affection too.

In Death Spiral, he compares the destruction of the doomed relationship to a horrid plane crash. "Tailspin, nose down/Now it's a race to the bottom," goes his Auto-Tuned vocals, as the beats fold in and unfold, dragged down by gravity.

This is counterpointed by Ascent Through Clouds, a vertiginous dreamscape where he would "fly fluid and remade", as the beats flit from club-happy to trance to synth funk.

Even when wistfully recalling halcyon days in Little Bubble, he does not kid himself. "We had our own little bubble/For a while," he chants, either referring to the previous American presidency, or a rose- tinted romance no more.

The piano plinks are near somnolent, as he intones like a midnight lothario with a permanent hangover. It is sweet and terribly sad.

Throughout, Longstreth is a rhythm master: beats dragged, sped up, on the verge of tripping. Winner Takes Nothing - which may be a jeremiad against big- corporation capitalism or a rebuke of an ex-paramour - rides on slippery beats, as he calls out those who "sell out the waterfront for condos and malls".

Ultimately, he concedes, "This has turned me against myself/In losing you, I lost myself", over an innocent xylophone coda.

The emotional misalignment is particularly chilling in Keep Your Name, a premium R&B dirge where his emotional offal is laid out over beats doused in gasoline.

Weaving a telling line "we don't see eye to eye", from an old Projectors track, Impregnable Question, into the chorus, he holds on to any shred of sanity.

Twisted into unlovely shapes, his voice rasps, "What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame", the last accusative word echoing till the end of days.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Goodbye letter to a love lost'. Print Edition | Subscribe