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Bitte Orca was ranked sixth in my Top Ten Albums I Wrote About in 2017, and was awarded the Jackson Pollock Party Popper for Haphazardness and Exuberance
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Emergent properties are curious things. It is to some extent counterintuitive to think of a whole as more than the sum of its parts: a single water molecule is not wet; a single neuron cannot think. From up close the art of Monet is a confusing mess of scalloped paint blobs, but by stepping back one comes instead to appreciate placid ponds and sweeping skies.
On paper, the music of Dirty Projectors is similarly messy. They fashion riffs and hooks from arpeggio croppings like some slapdash collage, winding threads of melody splashed with vivid impressionistic bursts of backup singing. One may as well sling buckets of colour across a canvas and call it a painting. And yet, as admirers of Jackson Pollock can attest to, from chaos comes great beauty.
Bitte Orca sprawls across a bizarre spectrum of influences. From St Vincent's knotty art-rock, Dirty Projectors borrow jarring, angular guitar figures. From the introverted balladry of Sufjan Stevens comes the pastoral noodling that ebbs and flows with the album's tides. And from both comes a flair for uncontrived drama, for unaffected theatrics, for unpretentious extravagance.
This is where Dirty Projectors breach new territory. Sufjan and Vincent wear their steel-jawed seriousness well, but of the three, only one dares to have fun. Sufjan's last album is a bittersweet work of grief and misery, chronicling his deeply dysfunctional relationship with his mother and stepfather; Vincent's self-titled opus is a towering, cathartic monument forged from pillars of wry, winking literary allusion. Dirty Projectors' philosophising is not as sharply focused. It could be said to meander somewhat. Indeed, it could be said to stumble gracelessly, haphazardly, even dangerously. Bitte Orca does not cohere in the same way as Carrie and Lowell or St Vincent, at least not thematically. But it bubbles with such enthusiasm, such exuberance, such giddy unadulterated joy that you simply will not mind.
Close inspection of this album is neither recommended nor necessary. It is a Gordian tangle of zest and zeal, a bright clash of colours spattered where they should not be. But from afar, Bitte Orca is brash and imaginative and fresh, pushing boundaries and trashing conventions as few musicians dare to do.
Cut the knot. Take a step back. Just enjoy yourself. Dirty Projectors certainly are.