Over the past few years, Ive known the album Id call the best of the year the first time I heard it. Last year it was Man Mans Rabbit Habits. 2007 resulted in Tears of the Valedictorian by Frog Eyes, and Joanna Newsoms Ys hooked me the year before that. This year, its the Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca, featuring Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. From its sharp cover to the very last note, the record never hits a dull moment.
Opening track Cannibal Resource kicks off with the trademarked loopy guitar, which frontman Dave Longstreth has fueled his career with. The guitar slinks around lithely before the rest of the band kicks in, complete with another Projectors trademark: lilting, wordless, catapulting backing vocals, belted out by bassist/keyboardist Deradoorian and guitarist Coffman.
The opening line of Temecula Sunrise suggests California expanses, as opposed to the bands Manhattan home: I live in a new construction home, I live on the strip behind the dealership, yeah. But thats always been Longstreths lyrical M.O. Instead of cramped, claustrophobic city-scapes, his minds out in the bright, golden outdoors. The concept album Getty Address is largely set on the outskirts of society. Multiple songs in the bands catalogue reference beaches, cliffs and finches.
Longstreths voice climbs through the song like one of his beloved finches, soaring, catching air and following it majestically. Two tracks later, though, another vocalist comes to the fore. Stillness is the Move features Amber Coffman on lead vocals, the first pure lead shes been given as a member of the group. For years, Longstreth has mentioned his appreciation of Mariah Carey, but this is the first song that whole-heartedly seems inspired by her. The staccato, trilled guitar line and radio-ready drum beat set up perfectly for Coffman, as her serenely confident vocals prove an amazing counterpoint to Longstreths howl. The track wouldnt seem out of place on modern R&B radio, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Whats less fair than two astounding vocalists putting in time for one group? Three astounding vocalists working for the same group. Angel Deradoorian (who will release her debut solo EP Mind Raft on May 5, the same day as Stillness is released as the first single from Bitte Orca) takes the lead on Two Doves, a melancholy track that includes an orchestra backing a swift, finger picked guitar line. However, much like Coffmans lead, this song can be looked at as Deradoorians introduction to the limelight. Her rich, full vocals perfectly balance with the string section, the lyrics of a failing relationship deep and haunting.
The album title, while I still have no idea of its meaning, blasts into focus in the middle of Useful Chamber. The guitars suddenly grunge and speed up, as a doubled, distorted track of Longstreths vocals repeats the title back and forth.
Where a lot of albums would begin to lose steam after such a stellar start, Bitte Orca only charges forward. Another pop-friendly drumbeat opens No Intention, complete with handclaps. This, paired with the three vocalists swooping in unison, and a compact, stumbling guitar line create a truly strong atmosphere that should win over listeners who werent sold on the sprawling, scattered songs Longstreth had been making for years. You represent something unreal, Longstreth howls, but is that what you meant? As usual, his voice is full, and his confusion is heartfelt, sincere and moving.
While his previous albums had their share of beautiful moments and impressive pieces, this album represents a developed strength in compact songwriting, an ability that should appeal to a bigger audience.Remade Horizon, one of the best tracks Ive heard this year, is a perfect example of this. The quick, trippy guitar & vocal lines, the majestic howl of Longstreths melody, backed by Coffman and Deradoorians swoon-worthy vocals, the entrancing call-and-response chorus; it all adds up in a sublimely unusual and unusually sublime tune that should be a huge hit.
In the end, Id be shocked if there were a better album to come out this year, unless it was the other album the Projectors have promised to release.