The uplifting choruses and Longstreth’s tasteful melodic writing couldn’t overcome the uneasiness and instability that the overwhelming electronic textures provided, and only a couple of good songs came out atop the wash.
Above the blanket of strangeness and confusion, there always rose a gliding and tasteful melody for the ears to focus on, or at least attempt to. Writing melodies was a real strength of David Longstreth on this album. Vocal range was used very well to signal importance and energy through each song, and he always strung together a delightful shape to bring the listener through the ordeal. While it mostly lacked short and strong motives to relate to, the lines were altogether pleasing and interesting. The songs “Up In Hudson” and “Cool Your Heart” had the most intrigue to their melodies, especially with their uplifting choruses. The song “Work Together” was really the only one with a melody that failed to find any pleasure from its shape, and ironically enough did not work together well with the rest of the layers. Overall, the melodies settled down well into a rather difficult atmosphere and acted as our lifeline to the music’s message and purpose, as muddled as it was. Melody is certainly the worthy element of the work. Essentially, they saved the album from falling flat on its face.
These were some very bizarre harmonic decisions that simply weren’t fruitful enough by the end. At times, the harmony did come through and move the music along well while holding itself together. In all, though, only “Cool Your Heart” had a legitimately inspiring harmonic structure. In other songs, there were many creative dead spots that involved too many separate and moving parts. The structure was often unsettling and sounded too random to actually be providing anything useful to the music. The song “Ascent Through Clouds” is an example of harmony that is too dense and incoherent with no good rationale. When the layers were stripped down, the harmony was more successful at adding worth, as in the song “Little Bubble”. Mostly, though, the harmonies got so overly complicated that there was nothing for the melody to stick to. A lot of times, I heard the melody being the most important structural element to the music. That’s not terrible, but it easily takes away a separate dynamic level of emotion that can be reached. Unless you’re a baroque composer, your melodies should really sound organic rather than structural. The harmony certainly never let the floodgates of awfulness open, but it couldn’t consistently find worthwhile motion or substance to give the music what it needed.
Calling this an experiment gone wrong would be too bland of an explanation, but the overall uneasiness and instability of the sound does boil down to the ineffective additions of electronic textures. Around every corner, there seemed to be some sort of unwelcome synthesized sample or loop that interrupted the flow and drew too much attention to its weird self. Mixing those with the simplistic piano, and at times strings, never amounted to a strong combination. Instead, it came across as rather ugly. The extensive use of auto-tune was also a big red flag, serving as a true detriment in every way. The sound was always more appealing when the texture was small and concise, but aside from the song “Little Bubble”, that rarely happened for a good amount of time. I did appreciate the experimentation to a degree, though, and it offered an element of freshness that made sense within the overall work. What I didn’t appreciate so much was the fact that the timbre was set up in this album to be the focal point and the rhyme and reason behind the songwriting. To completely take over the music like it did, bury much of the musical content, and be as underwhelming as it was proved to be a real disappointment. The song “Death Spiral” encapsulates that well. It isn’t enough to deliberately put the focus of the music on the timbre and then add nothing but sounds that can be perceived as unique or edgy. This isn’t 1960’s postmodernism, where you could get away with that. The purpose must go beyond sounding different, but I never truly perceived the real greater purpose in this album, which was Longstreth’s emotional break-up. The overall sound was way too disparate.
Dirty Projectors is back to a solo project, and David Longstreth has a strong enough grasp on the music world on his own to be taken seriously and given attention. He’s a respectable musician with a reputable career, having collaborated with many great musicians and creating some unique music, but he was not at his best with this work. With the intense inward-looking aspect of the album, style became chaos and presentation became awkward. This album still has its solid moments and is worthwhile to those who are always looking for something that sounds state-of-the-art, as well as those who truly value uniqueness when expressing oneself. Plus, Dirty Projectors already have a sizeable fan base as well as the attention of higher-ups in the music world, so this will be listened to and enjoyed for a while. Not by me, though, and I can’t see it affecting the genre of art rock too much.
Final Score: 105/180