Perhaps more so than usual, especially of late, I walk away from Dirty Projectors’ latest, self-titled album Dirty Projectors of two different, maddeningly inconsistent minds.
The first album to come from the band in five years, it’s both a self-pitying, almost-comedically melancholy return-to-the-spotlight and a reflection mood piece build upon half-remembered recollections, shattered memories and unending pain, crying to be released. It’s as compellingly heartbreaking as it’s woefully self-absorbed. But that’s what makes it a beautiful collection of fragile masculinity and once-crippled insecurity.
As it reminisces on jaded love — from his former member and partner Amber Coffman, as well as the rest of the band members who decided to leave leader Dave Longstreth — through self-analysis both passive-aggressive and genuinely heavy-hearted, it’s an exploration of a musician trying to strip himself down to his rawest, demeaning self, choosing not to flex all his musical talents but instead pushing himself into uncomfortable, and sometimes deeply awkward, territory away from his strong suits. When it’s unsuccessful, that’s weirdly what also makes sorta succeed, if in a small way.
The decision to self-title the album could allude to several different interpretations. Some of them obvious; some of them brilliant, if mildly. One could quite easily call an album this moody and sulky a masturbatory exploration into self-importance. That’s, admittedly, the lens through which I (somewhat ignorantly) heard it through initially, but I’m so very glad that I decided to give it a second, third and now fourth shot.
With each progressing listen, I only continue to admire Longstreth’s exposed sincerity. Dirty Projectors is an album that’s not nearly as enjoyable or excitable as anything associated with the band’s fractured name before, but that’s what continues to make it so very intriguing to my impressionable ears. Dirty Projectors practically demands multiple listens and multiple breakdowns, almost against your natural instincts. To write it off is understandable, perhaps healthier, but it also gives a limited impression.
While these new batch of songs have the unfortunate habit of bleeding together, especially compared to the band’s initial versatility, that’s what gives later spins an on-going, free-flowing vibe that’s like digging deeper and deeper closer to the surface, before working your way back to the exposed naked sun with the predictably hopeful, if encouragingly peaceful, final notes, the optimistic “Cool Your Heart” and “I See You.” It’s easy to consider Dirty Projectors a sadboy hipster exercise in inflated self-aggrandising, because it basically is. But this brooding, teary-eyed Brooklyn downbeat music memoir sneaks up on you. It doesn’t rattle you, but it sneaks into your soul and then it bellows.
This deep-felt “woe is to me” self-projecting (see what I did there?) is starkly more self-aware than it seems upon first listening. It’s developed, if not quite as distinguished, and it’s disparaging, if not completely deflated, but it finds a weird way to move you. It’s individual, but in its love-sick confessing, it’s sometimes strikingly universal and timely, with the poppy “Little Bubble” providing relatable commentary on how our technology continues to keep us together while it quietly tears us apart, distancing us as we’re coming together. That’s not an earth-shattering revelation; in fact, it’s a little cheesy. But through its text bubbles and bubbly ringtones spiking up the song, it reminded me of relationships I maintain as I lose them, and it ultimately spoke some raw truth to me. It provides the knowledge that we all know these days, but nevertheless tend to forget. Or, perhaps, the information we choose to forget as we sink deeper and deeper below.
That’s the key to Dirty Projectors‘ distinctly insignificantly significance. It’s an intensely thoughtful album, and even when it panders and pouts, it still finds a way to resonate. “Keep Your Name” is both the first track and ultimately the most telling one, with the rest of the singles re-harking on the same themes over and over and over again. It’s Longstreth’s confessional, conflicted moment of truth, and everything else is known. But Dirty Projectors isn’t an album about admitting unknown realities. Instead, it’s about making peace with the things we hate about ourselves (and, sometimes, others) on accepting, if still muddled, terms. It’s about staying inside and, yet, learning to let go.