Dirty Projectors, ‘About To Die’ – Album Review
What must it be like in the mind of David Longstreth? The frontman of the Dirty Projectors leads one of our era's most beloved bands, and the lush strings and interlocking vocals of ‘Bitte Orca’ and ‘Swing Lo Magellan’ have become as familiar to listeners as well-loved furniture. An EP, then, constitutes a bonus, complementing and expanding on the Projectors’ careful, measured work of the past five years and letting us deeper into this artist's mind.
According to legend (or press release), Longstreth penned seventy songs for 'Swing Lo' while holed up in an upstate New York house, and the 12 that made the record are the best. That album, destined for many end-of-the-year lists, is marked by it’s intimacy; the singer’s relationship with guitarist Amber Coffman is an unobvious but very much present element of the work. On this EP, the Longstreth we find is more alone. While the track ‘About to Die’ sounds much as it does on 'Swing Lo,' the three new songs here present Longstreth as isolated, both in lyrical and musical content, his reedy voice contrasting the harmonic honey of Coffman and vocalist Haley Dekle.
This is, in an unassuming fashion, an existential EP. That fact is most apparent in the two minutes of ‘While You’re Here,’ which Longstreth dedicated to his late friend Gerard Smith, bassist of TV on the Radio. The song is thick with eulogic strings, and Longstreth sings of how his “friend is silent,” and that “his ghost is quiet.” The violins flutter and turn, framing Longstreth’s chorus, “While you are here / you are alive,” which, it could be imagined, is what he feels his departed friend reminding him to be: here, present.
Death is also part of ‘Here ‘Til It Says I’m Not.’ It begins in a clamor, with its opening lines concerning stepping “to the void” and “getting destroyed." Driven along by handclaps and a cymbal-punctuated chorus, Longstreth muses about the fragility of life. Nostalgic for the “things we do and the time we spend,” he gets introspective and arrives at the song’s title: “Aren’t we here ‘til it says we’re not.” Indeed, David -- we're here until whatever that “it” is decides otherwise.
The closing ‘Simple Request’ is livelier than the other two new tunes, and it has a lightness that stands in contrast to previous tracks' self-analysis. Longstreth is direct and affectionate, declaring, “I want to know who you are right now!” He later adds “Never will we give up!” and “Never will we tire!” among crashes of cymbals. The 2:46 burst of exuberance closes with cooing oooohh-ooo-ooohs, leaving one with the sense that the call to be present has been heeded -- and that Longstreth finds the best of himself when he's with another.