Rating: 9 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Domino
There’s something so compelling about this record, I don’t think my brain was prepared for it. I mean, Rise Above – Dirty Projectors’ 2007 interpretation of Black Flag’s 1981 album Damaged, done from memory alone – had some real moments, especially the title track. The same was true of 2005’s The Getty Address, and as a live experience this band have always been pretty incredible, but whereas prior to this album Dave Longstreth may have been guilty of struggling to cement and contextualise his musical vision over the course of a record, with Bitte Orca he’s made an album that combines his trademark eccentricity with a new-found solidity – one that reaches the woozy, feverish highs of prime Cocorosie as often as it does the string-led intimacy of Joanna Newsom, with a wild unpredictability that occasionally finds it falling into sections of percussive drive that aren’t a million miles away from Battles.
That’s mostly due to the perfect balance Longstreth and his band achieve between doggedly underground arrangements and the shimmer of contemporary pop music. Bitte Orca‘s one of the few places you’ll find prog structuralism performed with such wonderfully gleaming melodies – the sort that conjure images of Mariah Carey before they do Maps and Atlases, and where each rhythmic twist comes as a welcome surprise rather than a math-rock cliché. It’s all executed with such smoothness too; an attribute never more prevalent than on single ‘Stillness is the Move’.
There’s so much going on here, and it’s all performed so well – from the lightheaded production, to the volume dynamics, to the vocals, which are easily the best on any Dirty Projectors album to date – that every time I listen to it I find something new to admire about it. Much like the early yardstick for 2009 that was Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Bitte Orca’s a record that continues to give, and represents a career best for a band who’ve previously compelled but frustrated, but have now found the stars aligning, their dynamic clicking into place, and are on top of their game.