So much has been written about Bitte Orca, the latest album by Dirty Projectors, that it’s an almost daunting task to find something worth bringing to the table that hasn’t yet been discussed at length. The album has been greeted with a level of pre-release hype amongst indie circles this year that was surpassed only by the likes of Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear. The immediacy and over-saturation of the Internet has rendered my thoughts typical; discourse is redundant. What’s left to be said about an album released three weeks ago whose Google search already results in well over one million hits?
The chief singer and essential mastermind of the project, Dave Longstreth, is a wildly divisive vocalist; he sounds a bit like the lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Antony Hegarty, but the execution is lacking. He’s seemingly incapable of channeling anything beyond frenetic elasticity. His falsetto bends and winds its way around opener “Cannibal Resource,” which sounds a bit like something Prince might have written on a coke and heroin binge in 1986. (The small bass riff surely must be a nod to “Kiss.”) The female choir is eerie and haunting — a recurring theme all through this trip.
What Longstreth is crooning about here or anywhere on Bitte Orca is a bit of a mystery, but it’s equal parts infectious and annoying, which is the simplest way of summarizing the album as a whole. In both tone and substance: it’s bizarre, frustrating, unique, and derivative all at once.
Album’s lead single, “Stillness is the Move,” is arguably the best – and most accessible – tune on display here. Like much of the album, it has a white-boy Afro-Pop stadium-rock edge. Longstreth actually moves aside on this track and lets the girls take over to full effect. “Useful Chamber” opens up with a fuzzy, Black Moth Super Rainbow-like synth riff before opening into a beautiful melody. While revisiting the track, it seemed to linger a bit more than any others, leading me to put it on repeat. “Two Doves” is a ballad that would have been better as a half-assed replication of “When Doves Cry,” especially if it had been recorded in the same manner as Rise Above (the band’s 2007 Black Flag-inspired semi-cover-album). These are the sort of aimless thoughts that Bitte Orca invokes.
Although Bitte Orca has sharply divided the indie community, it is hard to deny that there’s something interesting at work here, though I’m perhaps less inclined to believe its alleged “genius” was calculated. Longstreth is not a brilliant visionary, but he has created a masterpiece to the extent that he is capable. Bitte Orca is either deliberately frustrating or frustratingly deliberate, but in any case, it’s worth a listen. Or two. Or three.