Every now and then an album that gets a ton of hype and buzz will slip right past my radar upon the initial excitement surrounding the record. Fortunately for me, my discovery of Swing Lo Magellan, the sixth studio album by experimental indie group Dirty Projectors, didn’t come too long after the buzz surrounding the album. The New York-based group had never really grabbed my attention before. Their 2009 full length, Bitte Orca, was met with rave reviews, but the album never seemed to do much for me. Since that was my first exposure to the band, I ended up never really giving their back catalogue a chance. With Swing Lo Magellan, however, the band has me seriously reconsidering my prior assessment of their work.
The most interesting thing about the album is just how hard it is to pin down what kind of album it is. At its core, I’m tempted to call this a folk album, but the production surrounding the songs says otherwise. Opening track “Offspring Are Blank” opens up with a simple stomp-clap beat, but rather than instruments providing the music, we get nothing more than some soulful “ooh’s” to back up frontman Dave Longsreth’s crooning. The chorus explodes into a thick guitar riff and then dives right back into the barren verses. The mix of styles here is pulled off brilliantly and leaves you scratching your head wondering “what exactly is this?” The answer doesn’t matter. It’s simply great music.
Plenty of other moments on this album will leave you wondering what exactly you’re listening to as well. From the urgent and flat-out odd drum beat of “About To Die” to the disjointed drum beat of “Just From Chevron” backed by what sounds like a banjo, you can quickly realize just how many different styles are being meshed here. But like I said earlier, at its core, I’m tempted to call this album more folk than anything. While the production offers some weird curveballs for the listener, much of the instrumentation found on the album is very organic, and we see instruments ranging from your standard electric guitars to swelling strings and even a prominent presence of wind instruments. You can’t deny the ambition behind this album, and specifically the ambition behind Longsreth, who both wrote and produced the album. His vision comes to life throughout the 12 tracks here, and the ride is about as enjoyable as can be.
Dirty Projectors aren’t for everyone. Their unique brand of experimental-indie-folk could easily leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. However, it could just as easily leave you wanting more. Swing Lo Magellan is an album that people will be heralding as the one of the best of the year come December, and the kind of album people will be claiming they don’t “get” the hype surrounding. Regardless, this album will be brought up in many discussions surrounding end of the year lists, and most of that traces back to the inability to really pin this thing down. If you think you would be up for something a little more off the books than you’re used to, give this a chance, and if you’ve already written off Dirty Projectors you should give this a chance too as it is easily their most accessible. But when it comes to the Dirty Projectors, that may not be saying much.