Vinyl Vlog 473

Vinyl Vlog 473

Thursday, 07 January 2021
‘Overlord’ from the 5EPs 2LP set by Dirty Projectors.

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the clear, colorless 2LP pressing of 5EPs by Dirty Projectors. From the very first instant I heard the music contained on 5EPs by Dirty Projectors, the clear and colorless 2LP set gave me pause. True, I had heard the group’s music before (the first album I heard was Swing Lo Magellan in 2012, and it really won me to the band’s banner), but 5EPs featured a sound so captivating that, the first time I played it, the only times that I moved were to either change over the sides or plates. After the year that 2020 proved to be, I didn’t dare to move as the record played; I didn’t want to disturb it any more than I had to, and didn’t want to chase what I was hearing away, somehow. That might sound a little ridiculous but, when you encounter a spell like the one this album casts, you have to take it on its‘ terms; you don’t expect it to bend to your will.

As soon as a stylus sinks into the A-side of 5EPs and the Windows Open movement begins to work its magic, listeners who might have been uncertain will understand exactly what I mean, regarding how this album works. On side-opener “On The Breeze,” singer Maia Friedman steps to the front of the group [each of the EPs features a different bandmember singing, which causes each moment through the set to feature obvious dynamic movement –ed] and, along with primary songwriter David Longstreth, proceeds to just spill sonic sunshine in every corner of the aural space. A very trebly and high-pitched guitar tone (I think it’s a guitar) sparkles as the tone which appeared in any of George Harrison’s contributions to the White Album, but there’s also an abstract quality about the sound which bears a similarity to Combustible Edison that is more than slight as well. That tone endures into “Overlord,” but also sees the song get ever-so-slightly more soulful – which causes the song to feel that much more lush and hypnotic in spite of the central theme seeming to be about a desire to travel as well as excitement at the prospect of unforeseen possibilities (check out lines like, “Those who stay behind will be left on the shore/ Who could afford not to be a part of what we’re pushing toward?”). Regardless, just flies free and gracefully through its two-and-three-quarter-minute runtime, and will leave listeners beaming as “Search For Light” opens. There, as ghostly strings and a gently arpeggiated acoustic guitar seem to straddle a line which feels simultaneously both light and dark; it is wistful and dreamy, but has a dark edge about it too which is incredibly nerve-wracking. That energy is contrasted very well by the warm, acoustic sweetness of “Guarding The Baby” which closes the both the movement and the side.

For “Guarding The Baby,” listeners will find it impossible to not draw connections and similarities between Dirty Projectors and Led Zeppelin as the guitar performance here bears a certain similarity to the acoustic side of Led Zeppelin 3 (it is delicate and artful, but not at all flimsy) and effortlessly keeps listeners engaged to stick with the running; granted, one would think such a thing would be easy enough to do in its own right, but “Guarding The Baby” actually leaves listeners hungry for more.

For the B-side of the album, Dirty Projectors enter the frame for the Flight Tower EP as well as half of the Super Joao EP (more on how that works, momentarily) which keeps SOME of the guiding principles that the Windows Open EP featured so that listeners are certain what they’re hearing is still by the same band, but changes enough that it doesn’t feel like the same work as that which appeared on the previous side.

For this EP, the band shuffles its members around and sees singer/keyboardist/percussionist Felicia Douglass pick up the mic, and that change completely re-formats the sound. From note one of “Inner World,” the low end in the mix becomes positively rotund – and Douglass sits atop it confidently like a crown.

The deep bass first set by “Inner World” endures through “Lose Your Love” and sees the band get more urban in stance as the vocal harmonies converge against the beat to create a marvellous throb which is positively gorgeous. Listeners will find themselves hanging on Douglass’ every syllable through the cut and sighing with satisfaction with every break – and gasp every time Douglass reaches higher in her vocal register for a few added dramatic notes.

The tone immediately shifts from Urban to Experimental as “Self-Design” trades the drums which had previously driven the songs for processed beats and really pushes for a more erotic beat before “Empty Vessel” goes a step further into ground that is obviously intended to tread further into EDM than Dirty Projectors has ever dared before to close the running of the second EP in this set – although it doesn’t end the side. Easily the most tightly performed and produced cut on this second EP, “Empty Vessel” really has a chance to shine as the vocals collide against the beat, but the best part is that the result is a chime and not a thud. Here, Douglass expertly navigates the ground between college rock stiffness and inner-city soul; it plays hypnotically and, while not flawless, commands further exploration on future releases.

…And then, the play gets a little dicier. Instead of ending the side’s run with the end of the EP, Dirty Projectors elect to split EP3 down the middle and include two cuts here as well as two cuts at the beginning of of LP2. That means there is a bit of a disruption in the flow of the sides, exacerbated by the fact that (obviously) the singer changes (to singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Longstreth) and, with that change, a dynamic shift there’s a dynamic shift toward indie rock which is impossible to ignore.

For the last two cuts on the B-side of 5EPs, a leap is required from listeners – not in structure exactly, but in sensibility. For the last two cuts on LP1, Dirty Projectors spontaneously get quieter and that shift feels remarkably poignant. First, for “Holy Mackerel,” the members of the band suddenly vanish and leave Longstreth all alone with his guitar. Listeners will be shocked, when they hear the change; after the remarkable orchestrations which appeared earlier in this running, the sudden change in timbre is incredibly disarming; like the difference between the bombast of Dinosaur their highest and most ambitious point, and Sebadoh in their early four-track days. In this case though, Longstreth makes the most of the intimacy that he knows he can achieve on his own – the vocal melody he chooses here is soft and relaxing, and the beat included mimics a heartbeat. The effect is a gaffe-sized hook capable of pulling listeners for miles. While “I Get Carried Away” attempts a sound similar to “Holy Mackerel,” the jazzier chords and slightly more complicated time signature leave it not hooking quite as deeply. Granted, the cut isn’t bad – it just might have been wiser to not leave it as the cut which closes the side.

Conversely, “You Create Yourself” attempts similar movements to those made by “I Get Carried Away,” and opens the C-side of 5EPs perfectly. There, Longstreth successfully syncs the indie rock flavoring of his contributions to the previous side of the record with a little more instrumentation and a melody which really highlights the song’s lyrical hook. It works brilliantly, and really helps to keep “Moon, If Ever” (the song which follows “You Create Yourself”) focused too.

After Longstreth puts the mic down, Kristin Slipp slides in and changes the script for 5EPs again; pushing in a decidedly more collegiate direction on “Eyes On The Road” with some spare but sweeping horns which are very tape manipulated/looped(it’s hard to really decide what Earth Crisis is supposed to be, other than a college rock-inspired exercise) before spontaneously leaving horns behind, picking up strings and looping samples of them to create a great sound sculpture with them. Listeners will still be trying to process those sounds when “There, I Said It” combines the elements and offers the greatest pay off on the EP. There, all the pieces align to form a spectacular pop song that many listeners will find themselves humming in the shower after they’ve been exposed to it. That it only lasts a minute and twenty seconds is almost comical, but the strength of the cut cannot be understated. The EP ends with another orchestrated spectacle in the form of “Now I Know,” but the cool thing about this cutis that it’s one which plays the closest to straight on the Earth Crisis EP; while tape manipulation and other more pop-informed functions colored all the other songs, “Now I Know” simply focuses on orchestral composition for about four minutes and offers listeners a great mini-monolith. As natural and fluid as the score to a documentary about the tundra, “Now I Know” soothes nerves and quiets hearts for four minutes, and then just sees itself out.

…And with a different bandmember having taken centerstage for each of the other EPs, Ring Road functions as the place where all those roads meet and all the members add their voices to the music on this, the final EP. Because everyone has a voice here, it goes without saving that the dominant sound is completely different again; on “Por Que No” – the opening song for the Ring Road movement – Dirty Projectors unload a glorious rock statement on listeners (it’s the first completely straight-playing rock song on the album) and listeners will find themselves sitting up to pay attention with all the force of a sudden reflex action; right away, the springy, stringy guitars call to mind the more playful side of The Beatles (even more effectively than lyrics about wanting to eat all the ice cream do, in fact), and the simple, very “Ringo” beat effortlessly sinks the song into listeners’ hearts. Not a group who is unable to recognize when they’re onto something, Dirty Projectors keep the ‘fun’ levels up into “Searching Spirit,” which sees all of the band’s members contribute vocals to a song which makes the most of the childlike joy inherent to its short and simple song structure. After that, the band’s energy gets a little rockier as Longstreth turns up the gain on his amplifier and presents a song which could have/should have appeared on K Records during that label’s glory days (“No Studying”) before finally coming to a very ‘Eighties’ rest with “My Possession” to close both the side and the album. There, all five bandmembers [the only member of Dirty Projectors who did not contribute vocals to 5EPs was Mike Daniel Johnson –ed] shadow each other through every stanza on the song’s lyric sheet to neatly, cleanly present the dictionary definition of a “group effort,” and bolster that with song structures which sort of resemble vintage New Wave in the song’s reliance on keyboards and synthetic beats, but also feel fresh because the song does not rely on new wave cliches from a presentation standpoint. Because of that, when the song ends, listeners are left wanting more and will be scrambling to at least reset their stylus and start this side again, if not begin again even earlier.

The first time I went front-to-back with 5EPs, I had to catch my breath. The experience and exertion required to make it all the way through the two LPs proved to be surprising – but I felt like I was glowing, in the end – it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Worth it too proved to be the effect that the album proved to have on me; when my review copy arrived, I did not see it coming. Because it arrived right before Christmas, I had already begun to sketch out my list of the ten best albums of 2020 in my vain attempt at getting a jump on the new year, but I found that I had to tear apart my list and re-think the whole thing over. It didn’t take a lot of deep thought to know that 5EPs is definitely one of the best albums released in 2020 – and it commands the effort required for inclusion, no matter how inconvenient that might have proven to be. [Bill Adams]


Dirty Projectors’ 5EPs is out now on CD, 2LP or mp3 formats. Buy it here on Amazon.

Comments are closed.