Repeat after me, “Eclecticism is not a substitute for quality. Eclecticism is not a substitute for euphony. Eclecticism is not a substitute for introspection.” One more time.
Everybody got that?
Now, that brings us to the Dirty Projectors. They aren't good.
Listen, it's fine that there are bands out there who are not good. Everyone is presumably trying their best. But it sucks that music critics, who have almost by nature been bred to like pseudo-intellectual music, dominate the conversation and often elevate unlistenable groups. So, when we trash Dirty Projectors, we're really mostly trashing the hundreds of critics and fifteen actual fans who lionize them.
With that out of the way, let's begin trashing Dirty Projectors.
Somewhere between the advent of mass grade inflation in top tier colleges and the proliferation of self-celebrating trustafarian culture, a mighty wave of “I've heard of that, so I completely understand that” careened its way through coastal culture. It's marked by the statements, “Have you read [Baudrillard, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida]? Yeah totally. Well, I mean I should re-read that. Well, actually, what I really mean is…no, I haven't. I mean I know those people exist and I have a college degree…does that count?”
There's a 'fart in a spacesuit' quality to the culture of wannabe intellectualism; ie it stinks and it's not going away. Everyone seems to have taken freshman cultural studies or anthroposophical philosophical ethnography, bought all of the books, and never cracked a single one. Then they wrote masturbatory papers that obliging professors stamped A's on in fits of self-preservation.
The same thing has been happening to indie music culture for quite some time. The two are actually hopelessly intertwined. Take a quick morsel from Stereogum's interview with Dirty Projector frontperson David Longstreth:
STEREOGUM: It's interesting to pull back and take the longview on the arc of your work — how there's a conceit and idiom and self-imposed constraints upon each release, and how that creates lots of angles and handles for discussion and context. This time it seems like you've somewhat liberated yourself from having any overarching conceit or idiom — and that has allowed you to get more real with yourself, and put that voice into your writing.
DAVID LONGSTRETH: Rad, cool — that was part of the idea.
STEREOGUM: But then that's my question: Is that a sleight of hand? Like not having a conceit in itself became the conceit … sorta “For my next trick, I'm gonna get real,” in a way. Right?
When I read that, I sprayed a fine mist of corporate-strain instant coffee across my writing nook. Fine, call that shit hipster. Call it whatever you want. But there used to be two more precise words for this: “Poseur” and “Scenester.” Poseurs were people who didn't know shit but pretended they did — an affected air of superiority, if you will. Scenesters, similarly, were really just paper hiptards, carefully crafting an image of something they thought to be cool, but with nothing to back it up. All image and zero substance. Now with the term hipster becoming both an all-too-broad marketing term and a weird escapist term of self-derision, I think it's time we go back to these old terms.
So, in effect, the Dirty Projectors are the soundtrack to a poseur scenester dry-hump orgy.
But, truthfully, the problem isn't so much an authenticity problem as an audio one. Listening to their latest album, Swing Lo Magellan is like listening to that one annoying kid that gets shotgun in your car and proceeds to flip through radio stations willy-nilly hoping that by sheer force of frantic variety a good song will emerge. One does not. From the static comes a schizophrenic mess of boring AM lo-fi tidbits, bizarre atonal caterwauling and over-serious back-up coo'ing. And some guitars.
Sure, Stereogum and Pitchfork have dumped the thesaurus entry for “genius” into their reviews. Even before Magellan came out, the sweaty palms of that music bloggery machine were already stroking the album in what would become a months long hand-job festival. And before their hands were washed, a variety of supposedly deep and introspective videos and promos emerged to support it. There is even a 20 minute medley video produced by Pitchfork where Longstreth walks (perhaps fittingly) through garbage dumps.
Any writing about or interview with Longstreth reads like that Escher piece where two hands draw themselves. Who started it? Where is it going? No one knows. But they sure do use some fancy vocab. So far as I'm aware, the word hermeneutics hasn't been used, but just know that it's coming.
Let me be clear, I don't completely blame the band for being awful. I really don't. Everyone is free to experiment, of course. “Hey man, I'm just hitting this trashcan and screaming marketing slogans in Elvish. Wicked dada, right?” I do, however, blame the culture that supports it for inflating their importance.
I know what folks are going to say when they read this:
“You, like, just don't get it.”
No. You don't get it. There's absolutely nothing to get.
The Dirty Projectors play tomorrow night at the Troubadour.