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Dirty Projectors - New Attitude

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Artist: Dirty Projectors

Album: New Attitude

Label: Marriage

Review date: Sep. 28, 2006

What's the deal with the sheep?

In the past, Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors (and numerous other lo-fi projects) has tended to overexplain things, accompanying his Getty Address with a long treatise on Don Henley, for instance, and referencing the famous Lincoln speech in his stage show. A former Yalie, he was the kind of guy who insisted on footnotes, historical context, thesis statements, the whole conceptual ball of wax. But now with New Attitude, a tour giveaway repackaged by Portland's Marriage Records, he dispenses with all that. There's no lyric sheet, no credits, no artists' credo and no clues about what exactly ties all these songs together.

Except, maybe, for the fact that there are two songs about sheep.

So, to hell with concepts and mega narratives. The only thing to do is to wade into the music itself, which is layered and contradictory, with age-worn instrumental riffs sitting right next to shiny-computer made sounds. The song "Fucked for Life" sounds like Akron/Family's crazed organic sing-alongs with a smack of Prince worship. Weirdly soulful, traditional sounds blues guitar, field chants, hand claps exist in close proximity with electronic squiggles. For instance,"Two Sheep Asleep" has the Africa-via-the-deep-south vibe of a chain gang call and response, but it's cut, paste, fractured and embellished with lap top tools. "Imagine It" takes the high soul harmonies of, say, Earth Wind and Fire but transposes the '70s soul beat onto avant electronica and something that resembles an mbira. And the long "Two Young Sheeps" (the second sheep song, if you're counting) is pure keyboard driven electro-funk made AOR with jazz flute. "Say yeah," Longstreth demands, before launching into the inscrutable lyrical theme "Precious reciprocity / Two sheeps asleep / Silently."

The words are confusing, possibly nonsense, but that doesn't seem to matter at all. In fact, on the couple of occasions where the lyrics make linear sense, they're a bit of a distraction. "In the Mall," for instance, is fairly straightforward verbally, mostly concerning a girl named Katy. Musically, the two-parted song is a dense weave of ideas and images: The first part is quiet, with ruminative guitar strumming, swirling vocal harmonies, marimba; then there's a break and we're off to synthy '70s soul keys and phone tones. Fitting this much music to lyrics as banal as "Katy goes...to the mall," seems wrongheaded and wasteful. La-la-la'ss and oohs, even lyrics about ovine reciprocity, would sound more profound.

And maybe that's the secret. By refusing to explain himself for the most part, Longstreth has forced listeners to fall back on the music, with all its impacted, multi-styled complexity.

By Jennifer Kelly

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