Like so many bands who have unwittingly cursed their future efforts by releasing a universally acclaimed record, the Dirty Projectors kind of screwed themselves with how good Bitte Orca was in 2009—even though the record came within an already sizable catalog. Their following EP collaboration with Bjork only redoubled the shell-shock of Bitte Orca’s mercurial rise. Which has made Swing Lo Magellan one of the more hotly anticipated follow-ups this year.
The disappointment that some fans have found therein might be on account of the fact that Swing Lo Magellan actually plays like a proper long-player and not a collection of standout avant-pop tracks. The closest thing Magellan offers to Orca’s single “Stillness Is the Move” is “The Gun Has No Trigger,” a climactic drum-driven track couching David Longstreth’s vocals in the dual female harmonies of Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle. This is pretty much the last we hear of this technique, which had come to identify the band’s sound, especially when vocalist Angel Deradoorian was formerly in the fold. Instead, the record feels a bit like Longstreth returning to his late-’60s Paul Simon collection, with “Dance for You” and “Just From Chevon” sounding like some lens-flared Kodachrome photo. There’s plenty of acoustic guitar leads, as on “Unto Caesar” and the excellent “Offspring Are Blank,” which features the closest thing to a Queen hook that Longstreth has penned.
The Dirty Projectors are smart to keep the production spare, letting every West African guitar lick, drum stutter, and panned vocal harmony fill its proper space. The result might not be a record with the same gravitation weight that Bitte Orca had but that’s largely because we’ve grown to expect the Dirty Projectors to deliver AP avant-pop on every outing.