When approaching a new Dirty Projectors release, you really have no idea what you're getting into as it could be anything from highly strung art rock to complicated South American tribal guitar music. That's the diversity of leader Dave Longstreath. However with five albums deep already, it gets to the point where you think what else can they do? And can Longstreth's imagination really stride to more complex and inventive lengths? With previous album The Getty Address being labelled at 'glitch opera' and 2007 release Rise Above paying homage to the hardcore punk rock pioneers of the same name. Swing Lo Magellan seems to be less concept orientated, less dizzying and over crowded by so many different styles that Longstreath tried to cram into previous works. Swing Lo Magellan can be imagined as folk songs played outside a saloon of an obscure little Western town that people ride in and out of. It's an album for travellers or experienced journeymen, just like the lead singer.
Maybe this style the band are taking now could be to do with the relocation of the place they recorded the album in. The group decided on going against the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York, and decided to move up state to Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Dropping the busyness of Brooklyn seemed to air out Swing Lo Magellan and give it some space. It's now a Dirty Projectors release which you can just sit back and take in, instead of one of the earlier more experimental albums which had your brain constantly in overdrive trying to figure out just wear Longstreath got his ideas from.
That Western folk style is embedded into many songs throughout Swing Lo Magellan. Lead single 'Gun Has No Trigger' feels like a song played before two bitter rivals face off in a showdown on a dark humid night, the chilling background vocals from Amber Coffman sound like an eerie angel's voice getting ready to take the loser off to a land where they'll face eternal sleep. Title track 'Swing Lo Magellan' is a pure folk song, sang wonderfully by Longstreath. The acoustic guitar flutters through the track soothingly and Longstreth's voice is arguably the calmest it's been throughout any of the Dirty Projectors releases. For once it's a track which doesn't need any complexity to it, and Longstreath's vocals mirror this.
With the absence of long term band member Angel Deradoorian, its up to backing vocalist Amber Coffman to step up and stand alongside Longstreath at the front of the stage. It seems like Coffman does this with ease, after all this is a woman who sang for dub-step pioneer Rusko and gold-fingered super producer Diplo during the past twelve months. If she could sing for two genre's completely out of her comfort zone, it seemed she could go toe to toe with Longstreath and his bizarre vocal arrangements. It's on 'The Socialites' where you hear Coffman's voice at it's most glimmering. Longstreath constructs a quite complicated, down tempo glitchy pop beat for Coffman to shine over, it's as if it was a test from Longstreath because of Deradoorian's absence. A test to see how many bumps Coffman takes. Fortunately she takes no bumps and the song is smoothly sang by the substitute starlet.
When this old Western tale ends you get the feeling that Dirty Projectors have surprised yet again. Six albums deep, and Longstreath's creativity and imagination never seems to falter or go stale. All he seems to need is a topic or setting to create eleven or so tracks that have the power intrigue listeners ears. Even moving out of the busy urban hustle and bustle and moving to somewhere like the rural countryside, Swing Lo Magellan feels like it has caught the journey the band has made, the exploration of new settings. It's a calmer musical experience but it still hasn't lost any of that genius originality that the band have shown in earlier releases. You still know this is a Dirty Projectors album. They're the type of group you could put in an empty room, and the musical results would still be something interesting. God knows what you would get from them if you sent them into Space.