Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Music Review: Björk / Dirty Projectors - Mount Wittenberg Orca

"Sometime in the last year or so, Dirty Projectors became the best experimental pop band in the world. On the back of their precisely calibrated 2009 breakthrough Bitte Orca, the co-ed sextet almost immediately began to show up on bills and be mentioned in the same breath as some of the indieverse’s most elite and respected artists. As is often the case with many a breakthrough act, the next year or so is often times used as a victory lap of sorts. This tends to result in needless EPs or fan-only releases—which, to be fair, the Projectors already kind of fell prey to with their Temecula Sunrise EP—but every so often this new found freedom facilitates an unexpected and rewarding artistic side-trip. This is certainly the case with Mount Wittenberg Orca, a 20-odd minute collaboration between the Projectors and pop-art mistress Björk, which debuted live this Spring as a single piece written for the Housing Works in Manhattan. It’s a tantalizingly brief but impressive melding of the minds, and all the money raised by this officially sanctioned studio recording is being donated to the National Geographic Society.

In short, everybody wins. But most importantly, as its own self-contained musical experience, Mount Wittenberg Orca is about as satisfying as I imagine an experiment of this nature could possibly turn out. Perhaps only those looking for a great deal of Bjork-ian electronic soundscaping would be disappointed, as this warmly recorded song cycle is split into 7 short, melodic experiments for voice and sparse instrumental accompaniment. And that’s appropriate when you have 3-4 of the most vivid vocalists currently on the scene at your disposal. But despite the presence and personality that is Björk, she noticeably and nobly cedes the spotlight to her DP cohorts for most the record’s runtime. Be that as it may, however, Mount Wittenberg Orca still manages to stay split pretty evenly between duets and solo vocal showcases for both Björk and DP leader David Longstreth. And it’s to the credit of all involved that no one figure stands out as the record’s de-facto leader, despite the fact that it’s pretty obvious by the songwriting on display that Longstreth’s penned a majority (if not all) of these tracks.

In fact, between an intro piece and a handful of beautiful vocal segues that show off the uncanny synthesis of Angel Deeradorian, Amber Coffman and Björk lie a couple of the best and most three dimensional pieces Longstreth has yet written. One he hands-off to Björk and the ladies of the Projectors, and one he tackles himself, and together they ably anchor the front and back ends of the record. “On and Ever Onwards” is the most instantly likeable song featured here, taking peaceful Björk verse melodies, coupled with the Projectors’ characteristically precise vox arrangements, and condenses it all into 2-minutes of headlong vocal leap-frog. It’s a thrilling moment that finds its foil in the comparatively drawn-out, 4-minute Longstreth exhibition “No Embrace”. Over the record’s most prominent instrumental flourish—a circular guitar figure punctuated by brief pockets of cymbal wash—Longstreth unfurls a series of raw r&b intonations while his female accompaniment plays melodic counterpoint by mirroring the instrumental figures with hypnotic wordless repetitions. If nothing else is as immediate as these two individuated segments (though some come close), they’re also not meant to be, as the whole of the Mount Wittenberg Orca piece feels much larger and more vivid than exercises of this nature have any right to be. Not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. " [76/100] [Published 07.22.10]

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