[6 April 2005]
There is a common practice in art galleries of providing supplementary information next to their displayed pieces. Besides the standard history, they often feature the curator’s notes of interpretation and artistic intent. Particularly for the abstract ethereality of postmodern art, it provides a kind of vantage point for us to make some sense of the seemingly chaotic visual ramblings.
However, being the petulant rebelliously independent child that I am, I refuse to be held by the hand in my efforts to make meaning. To me, art is primordial, a nice little stew of education, circumstances and genetics where its individual ingredients comprise delicacies that are discerned and subsequently savored by me and me alone.
Thus, I was a tad perturbed when the press release that accompanied The Getty Address resembled the feared curator’s notes more than anything else. According to those pieces of paper, the Dirty Projectors’ latest effort is an album length ‘sprawling, layered glitch opera’ that is inspired by the disparate elements of ‘Aztec mythology, the Eagles and the 9/11 aftermath’. Somehow, I find it a stretch of pretension to relate Dave Longstreth’s brand of acid Americana to the conflict between Hernan Cortes and the Aztecs in the 1500’s. Because of all of this, on a spiritual artistic level, The Getty Address fails to relate to me.
Putting all bias aside, on an aesthetic level, the album is an intriguing one. Driven by the trainwreck potential of Longstreth’s epic ambition, The Getty Address takes the above subject matter and transpose them to music which I can only best describe as the extremities of the Animal Collective gone orchestral.
To my pleasant surprise, The Getty Address is high on the virtuosity and low on the wankery.
In the opener “I Sit on the Ridge at Dusk” for instance, the tippity taps of cow bells, set to a Bollywood beat, greet the listener as they are layered with Bjorkian female ghostly wails, setting the tone of some screwed-up nightmarish apocalyptic scenario that involves a cross-spectrum of music as weapons of mass destruction. In the course the song’s five minutes, we hear the quiver of Langstreth’s wisp of the Coldplay and Keane variety, as well as the interspersing of low trombones and noir movie overtures. This creates the overall effect of a delightful schizophrenia, a fairy tale state where orgasms descend from a range of variables rather than focused repetitive motions.
Another notable example of Longstreth’s mastery and alchemizing of genre is the sprawling “Not Having Found”. A counterpoint of choir voices is supported by a Chinese Flute riff and a softly-propulsing Stravinskian rhythm, again lofting off into some kind of Music Appreciation 101-based la la land. Suddenly, the amble is broken by a bluesy vocal run, favored by both R&B divas and American Idol contestants. Then, just as quickly as it came, the music switches back to the original arrangements. It is to Longstreth’s credit that this album is certainly no cut-and-paste hack job, instead masterfully weaving every element together into an effectual artistic vision.
There are already rumblings in the indie-sphere about this being the Dirty Projector’s magnum opus. Though I am tempted to err towards agreement, I can’t help but think that the whole Don Henley in Aztec-land shebang is baggage weighing down The Getty Address from emerging into something special. And because it is a concept album, I cannot individualize certain aspects whilst leaving out the rest.
Here is my conclusion of the album as a whole - the effort is aesthetically astounding, yet perhaps it is this very respect that highlights the fine line between good art and great art. Both good and great art alike are technically excellent, a testament to the talent and genius of its creators. However, great art goes one step further; it embraces the gazer in an all-encompassing caress, massaging epiphanies deep into the tired muscles and joints of a soul caught in the strife of ennui. In other words, good art impresses. Great art transforms.
Unfortunately, The Getty Address is merely good art.