Bitte Orca is an album for the background of a high concept coffee shop on your hipster street; the problem is, you can identify that Dirty Projectors are the auteurs of the song you’re listening to, but because there’s so much change within each four to six minute song, you have no idea which song you’re listening to. This makes for something akin to calculated schizophrenia, with internal and external stimuli compounding the soundscape.
Dirty Projectors, led by Dave Longstreth, make art rock—smart, palatable music, that does venture into just plain oddness, at points. Is there an extension class I can take to better understand? In many interviews I’ve read with Longstreth, he’s dropped influences as varied as Nietzsche, John Coltrane and Pavement. Amazingly, you get all of those when you listen to the record…it just takes effort. This is an active participation album—you can’t just let it glide on by you and easily pass off to an acquaintance that you loved it.
Gloriously, Longstreth has a magical voice- as if Ted Leo had completely abandoned his Chisel days and stuck to “Biomusicology.” The rotating collective of artists involved in the Dirty Projectors may seem, in more ways than one, like the Polyphonic Spree, late members contribute wildly here. Amber Coffman on “Stillness in the Move”, in particular, has a voice that soars like Lykke Li with rhythms to match, surprisingly wailing like an R&B star towards the end- Mariah Carey comes to mind, not ironically, for her musicianship and range.
On songs like the opener, “Cannibal Resource”, Longstreth sets out layered syncopation, unexpected (and unpredictable) elements solidifying the appropriate self-dubbed genre choice of “experimental indie.” Rhythmic alterations, as on “Temecula Sunrise,” occur without warning, which may be disconcerting. At one point during “Useful Chamber,” I left the room temporarily– when I returned, I had no idea whether the track had advanced or I was still embedded in the “Bitte Orca Orca Bitte” quagmire. Pleasingly, recognizable West African rhythms abound on “Remade Horizon” and a hint of David Byrne shines through “No Intention” (and no surprise, really, as Mr. Byrne has collaborated with the band).
Still, “Fluorescent Half Dome” has inviting strings, but overwhelming unpredictability. The song unpleasantly lumbers along. The audience hears something akin to a marimba–but who knows, really? Dirty Projectors could be making music with a paper towel tube and it could legitimately work in the context of their cause, if Longstreth pushed his fellow artists enough. It seems like he tries to make you strip away whatever conventions you understand of classical music theory.
You can never really get comfortable after the first few tracks—you know if you start to like a rhythmic pattern (or any other element, for that matter), it’s just as likely to disappear without a trace. It’s defensive listening- you are aware that Longstreth is screwing with you, provocative to the end. Still, you’re left wanting more—hoping that on the next song, you finally ‘get it.’