Dirty dancing

Pub date June 24, 2009
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER "I guess it’s different things at different times. I guess different songs are in different modes." David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors is trying — but not very hard — to discuss his songwriting process by phone from Richmond, Va. From the sound of it, the Projectors are trudging along sluggishly today, so as one of those writers with a word or two to spare, I thought I’d help the tongue-tied onetime Yalie out.

"So do you write songs by jamming together as a band or do you compose all the parts yourself?" I wonder innocently.

"It’s hard to write music by jamming," sighs Longstreth, 27, "though not for someone like Phish. Or the Grateful Dead. Or the String Cheese Incident. Hey," he decides to turn the tables on his tiresome interrogator, "what kind of music do you listen to?"

Somehow I think I just got stuck in the String Cheese camp for throwing out the dreaded J word, although Longstreth gets gabby at the mention of his friends and fellow Brooklyner soft-liners Grizzly Bear and happily talks about the leaked "crappy burns" of that band’s latest disc, Veckatimest (Warp).

"We all like to hang out and listen to jams and stuff," he offers tentatively, as if trying out a new language, one perhaps invented by candle-selling hippies and moe.-moony preppies.

Oh, never mind — trust the art, not the artist, as my mother, a shiftless artist, once said. And Dirty Projectors’ art is excellent this time around: the Longstreth-led group’s seventh long-player, Bitte Orca (Domino), is a cunning, insinuatingly likeable collection of characteristically complex, left-field songs that seem to shoot from the hip for that ineffable quality that some fine Top 10 hip-hop appears to aim for — polyrhythmic pop that sound as easy and natural as a school-yard chant — while preserving Longstreth’s glimmering, almost-Afropop-like guitar playing, random (string cheese) incidents of harp, and unexpected time signatures that bring to mind, yep, the jams of Yes and their proggy ilk.

Still, those name-drops don’t quite encompass Longstreth’s romantic falsetto feints on "The Bride," the cock-eyed and sinuous Bjork-meets-Beyonce dance-pop of "Stillness Is the Move," or the fetching, erratic chamber folk of "Two Doves" — and do little to capture how luminously lovely the album is, for all its hard corners and uncompromising eccentricity, and how good his current band — which includes vocalist-guitarist Amber Coffman, vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist-bassist Angel Deradoorian, drummer Brian Mcomber — sounds live.

Little wonder that Longstreth has little patience for fool questions — words do little to sum up the gentle bite of Bitte Orca. "A song is like a living thing," he explains, not sure he’ll be understood. "And recording is a document of the song at a particular moment in time. But I think if you’re playing well, there’s an element of growth that’s happening as you’re playing. I wouldn’t describe it as improvisation — but flux."


July 7, 8 p.m., $15


628 Divisadero, SF




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