New Wave R&B Meets the Electronic Age
The Dirty Projectors’ new, self-titled album draws from several influences with much musical overlap. The first track features church bells and deep, throaty vocals, blending the soul and R&B motifs with heavy synths and electronica, as well as calypso and spirituals. The new wave electronica present throughout the album coexists alongside smooth, often synth vocals nostalgic of ‘80s R&B morning-after ballads (“Little Bubble” and others). Many songs would make for ideal mood music, such as the second track, whose title appears as a refrain, “Death Spiral.”
Also interspersed are riffs on the piano and orchestral strings reminiscent of Goldwyn-Mayer films. Lyrically, the album questions competition as a form of tough love all too present in business and in life at large in “Work Together.” Similarly, multiple tracks pit individuality against collectivism and partnership. Hear, for instance, the accusatory title and principled lines in “Winner Take Nothing,” which informs, “in loving you, I lost myself,” and, “divided, we can only lose.”
If the album were a two-act theatrical production, the Act I Finale would be the nearly-eight-minute opus that is “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” It begins with sweet, male acapella-style vocals whose melodies are echoed by horns. There is the diminutive presence of percussion as a synth-falsetto voice continues the poetics: “I thought the sun rose in your eyes.” The track builds into a lush R&B piece and crescendos towards an abrupt end featuring grating guitars, yet somehow makes the transition smoothly.
Sometimes the transitions within tracks here are not so smooth, one must believe by design. The dreamy “Ascent Through Clouds” carries listeners through layers of a musical stratosphere through pointed alternation between verses featuring heavily-modified vocals, sparing accompaniment and long, ambient instrumental breaks. This album certainly is an ascent, a journey and a cohesive amalgamation of complimentary soundscapes.