Last week, beloved avant-pop wierdos Dirty Projectors released a new track, “Gun Has No Trigger”, via Soundcloud. This is the first single from the band’s forthcoming full-length record Swing Lo Magellan, due out July 10th on Domino Records. The last time we heard from the band was late 2010, when they released Mount Wittenberg Orca, a 7-track collaboration EP with Bjork. Wittenberg came on the heels of 2009’s acclaimed Bitte Orca, a groovy and wildly successful album that bestowed indie royalty on the previously obscure band of Yale dropouts.
Guitarist/vocalist/producer/jack-of-all-trades Dave Longstreth spearheaded the Dirty Projectors project while he was a college freshman in 2002, and has taken the lead in composing and producing all of the band’s releases since. What is perhaps most distinct about the Dirty Projectors’ music as a whole is that it has constantly evolved, both in concept and sound. From the lo-fi field samples of The Graceful Fallen Mango and the operatic drama of The Getty Address, to the Black Flag-inspired Rise Above and the R&B-infused Bitte Orca, the band is in a continuous state of flux that is still apparent on “Gun Has No Trigger”.
One of the most distinctive qualities of the new track is the mixing and production. The song begins with a simple 4/4 drum beat that is mixed low and dry—an immediate contrast to the loud, crashing polyrhythms of Bitte Orca. Vocalists Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle enter with harmonized “oos” in classic Dirty Projectors form, layered over a low, sustained bass line. When Longstreth joins in with the lyrics, several nuances of vocal processing have been added to his voice, creating a deep echo effect with reverb and a slight delay. This may not make a big difference to the average listener, but to the Dirty Projectors fan that is used to hearing Dave’s trademark raw, scratching vocals that sometimes border on the point of harsh yodeling, hearing his voice in the setting of more traditional pop production can be a bit unsettling. This sense of a loss of quirkiness in the group’s sound is deepened by the fact that the instrumentation doesn’t go beyond what is introduced in the first ten seconds, making the development of the song seem a bit static.
Despite the flatness of the overall structure, there’s an interesting quality to the more stripped-down sound of the ensemble, which creates more space for individual parts to be heard and puts a greater emphasis on the Longstreth’s songwriting skills. The harmony takes a lot of surprising turns as unexpected chords take shape in the ladies’ pristine backing vocals, which fill in for the absence of any guitar or piano. Other great moments pop up throughout: when the song reaches its chorus, bassist Nat Baldwin recalls the classic James Jamerson bass lines of the Motown era with some funky syncopation, and Longstreth gives us a little bit of some of his old screaming techniques during the climax of the chorus.
It’s hard to tell what the new record is going to sound like from this one short taste, but maybe that’s what they’re going for by releasing this single first. After all, the band has always had a flare for surprises, and with a title like Swing Lo Magellan (a reference to Longstreth’s derisive relationship with GPS machines), who knows what’s coming? Even though the new track may underwhelm at certain points, it’s great to hear from Dirty Projectors, those raving, musical wizards of the indie world.