Just Saying: Dirty Projectors in ’09

Brooklyn Vegan asked Sohrab Habibion of Obits to sum up 2009.  One question in particular got my interest:

What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band in NYC in 2009?
The fact that people think Dirty Projectors are culturally important.

Of many of the bigger “hype” albums of the year, Bitte Orca was one I genuinely enjoyed.  Not sure where Dave Longstreth and his crew are going to take it from here, but the album is strong and deserves the praise it received.

But then I got to thinking, Obits counts a guy from Drive Like Jehu among their ranks (not to mention Habibion was in the fantastic band Edsel), and asked myself, “is it possible for a guy to be right just due to his association with seminal bands from the early 90’s?”



  1. Being of a certain age, I’m inclined to wonder the same thing, but no, I don’t think it’s possible. I think it’s more likely just sour grapes, a tossed-off statement that wasn’t backed up at all. It’s amateurish and adds nothing to the overall discourse, which is unfortunate.

    I’m somewhat unmoved by the Dirty Projectors record personally, and I’ve had a hard time figuring out why, exactly. Would have been nice to have someone beat me to it.

  2. Jason, I remember you getting me into the DP’s album of Black Flag covers and thinking there was no way this band could get huge. I’m shocked they did but happy they put out an album as good as the one you are talking about.

  3. Hello,

    Thanks for taking the time to consider my BV one-liner. In a genuine attempt to contribute something to the dialog, I will offer some reasons behind what I wrote. I’m going to try to answer the points I think were made so far in this thread and then add a few tidbits …

    1. The author of the original post likes Bitte Orca. Quite honestly, while I dig the name of the record and the cover image, the actual music doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

    2. The author muses, “is it possible for a guy to be right just due to his association?” Absolutely not! Past experience can, at most, be illuminating and offer perspective, but should never presume correctness. Besides, we’re talking about taste. There is no association that can claim ownership of what turns other people on.

    3. “Sour grapes.” Andy, I have nothing to be sour about. I am 39 and play in a rock’n’roll band. That makes me happy, not embittered. The success of other groups only effects my feelings about our popular culture, not my place in it.

    4. “A tossed-off statement that wasn’t backed up at all.” Perhaps. I can see how it might seem that way. Truthfully, I didn’t feel like being didactic and kinda enjoyed the mercurial nature of the statement, given the context of “best and worst.”

    5. “It’s amateurish and adds nothing to the overall discourse.” I don’t believe there’s anything unprofessional about expressing an opinion. Maybe it’s socially unbecoming but, frankly, I find most folks in the arts quite willing to trash stuff as long as it’s not done publicly. My argument is that to add to any sincere discourse people need to be willing to stick their necks out a bit.

    6. “Unmoved by the Dirty Projectors record.” And how! Aside from the fact that the singing makes my skin crawl, the mood and tone of this record is extremely cerebral and detached. There was nothing luring me into the album apart from my initial curiosity.

    When I heard the Dirty Projectors a few other albums came to mind that I hadn’t listened to in some time, so I pulled them out and discovered that the similar elements at play in what I was already familiar with were more satisfying. Here’s the short list:

    1. Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)
    2. Hugo Largo – Drum (1988)
    3. Arnold Schönberg – Moses und Aron (1984 recording conducted by Sir Georg Solti)

    The truth is I just don’t care for what the Dirty Projectors are doing. Or, at least, how they do it. Their Black Flag schtick I found intriguing at first, but ultimately horrific (I’ve never braved it past the 2 minute mark of this clip … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1Ql-xCasiE).

    That said, the fact that Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors are topping the year-end lists of so many critics is a good sign, I hope, that people are interested in music that strays from the common vocabulary of contemporary hits. Unfortunately, along with the rest of what’s on most of those lists, it also highlights how narrow the source material is that is being considered.

    The rest of the world actually released some terrific music in 2009. I am grateful that there are small labels like Honest Jon’s and Sublime Frequencies who are uncovering these gems and making them available to the rest of us. And, to my ears, there are more interesting rhythms, harmonic variety, texture and nuance in one Omar Souleyman track than in the entire Dirty Projectors body of work to date.

    But, again, this is all subjective. And I am certain that similar criticisms can be made of the group that I play in. We aren’t doing anything that anyone older than 25 hasn’t heard strains of before. Hopefully we are occasionally successful in combining known elements in a way that give it a new voice. Maybe we move sideways and not forward, but that’s alright by me. In literary terms, if you think of music as metaphor, to paraphrase William Gass, I would say Dirty Projectors employ it strictly as a linguistic device, but I am more drawn to circumstances that create it through the juxtaposition of familiar objects.

    Thanks for your time. See you round the borough …