[12 December 2012]
Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors’ latest full-length, rendered succinctness a virtue. Where the Brooklyn royalty’s previous work drew capital from generous, richly orchestrated buildups, a quick glance at Magellan‘s track lengths reveals the opposite.
A few months later comes this pithy offering—four tracks in 12 minutes, available online or on 12-inch vinyl cut at 45 RPM. Presumably borne from the same weirdly productive upstate New York sessions that spawned “70 new songs and beats”, About to Die offers a tight, effective encore for Magellan. Here, as on that record, the bulk of Projectors’ ornate eccentricities—the zigzagging harmonies, the time signatures, the squealing outbursts—are compressed and focused into uncharacteristically loose, almost minimalist indie-pop pieces.
The best of the bunch is the title track, a Magellan standout that could squarely have trumped “Gun Has No Trigger” for first-single status. With its stuttering handclap percussion and pitch-perfect call-and-response chorus (all together: “About to—diii-iiieee!”), the track aptly sums up Magellan‘s—and the EP’s—penchant for smart, self-contained art-pop snippets. At barely two minutes, “While You’re Here” makes for a sweet, sparsely arranged b-side. Singing alone, Longstreth croons a tribute to recently deceased TV on the Radio bassist over rising violin swells. “While you were here / You were alive”, he repeats, but then slips into third-person: “My friend is rising and shining again.”
There’s a looseness to Swing Lo Magellan, a ragged quality expressed in handclaps, studio chatter, and disarmingly straightforward arrangements. Though unremarkable by the band’s standards, “Here Till It Says I’m Not” and “Simple Request” highlight this aesthetic well. The former is the sort of breezy, harmony-driven guitar pop the group could toss off on demand, marked by sparse production that sounds positively by Bitte Orca standards. The latter is more rousing, like a rootsier, acoustic “Maybe That Was It”. Abrupt and full of casual, first-take strumming, the track ends as swiftly as it begins. Despite his name, Longstreth has made brevity his domain.