Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The return of the smarties

During last night’s fascinating Dirty Projectors’ show at Whelan’s in Dublin, I wondered a little whatever happened to Green Gartside. To all intents and purposes, Gartside was (and is) Scritti Politti, a smart art-punk combo who, in one of those …

Thu, Sep 17, 2009, 10:21

   

During last night’s fascinating Dirty Projectors’ show at Whelan’s in Dublin, I wondered a little whatever happened to Green Gartside. To all intents and purposes, Gartside was (and is) Scritti Politti, a smart art-punk combo who, in one of those odd twists of fate which were a lot more common back in the Eighties, found a modicum of mainstream success with brilliantly oddball pop tunes like “The Sweetest Girl” and “Wood Beez”. Gartside was a wry and witty lyricist, fond of puns and burying radical notions subtly in the middle of his tunes.

There’s a similar cut to David Longstreth’s jib. Under his watch, Dirty Projectors’ back-pages are full of pointy-headed concepts – albums based around Don Henley, Aztec mysticism and Black Flag’s “Damaged” album – which never lose sight of the groove. New album “Bitte Orca” may be their best-received album to date – certainly, they attracted a much bigger and more tuned-in crowd last night than on previous visits to the city – but those exuberent, dizzy songs and swatches of African hi-life guitars, r’n’b vocals, post-rock grooves and tribal incantations are still high concepts, even by indie rock’s often deliberately lofty standards.

These are interesting times then for a band like the Dirty Projectors. There’s suddenly a warmer (if perhaps not quite whole-hearted) welcome in mainstream circles for bands who were once confined to the margins. Tectonic shifts in the relationship between uptown and downtown pop flavours mean there’s now a bit of a love-in going on and all manner of smart boys and girls are making the most of it.

But it remains to be seen if even this golden age comes with a glass ceiling. For all the band’s alluring, shimmering sounds and songs (and they played mostly from the new album last night as if to showcase where they’re now heading) and echoes of Talking Heads (and you’ll find those not just in the delicate quiver of Longstreth’s high notes), it’s hard to figure out where this might progress pop audience-wise. Sure, the Dirty Projectors will enjoy many a long and satisfactory day toiling and teasing with art-rock modes, but the music may remain a tad intricate and perhaps too darn smart to be embraced by a larger audience.

Not, I suppose, that band or following will complain too much. The great joy of experiencing Dirty Projectors is seeing completely unrelated sounds click into place, especially on the newer material. Mapping out each song might involve a lot of dot-joining, but the groove and the rhythms still seem natural and unforced. Instead of jarring, the various elements fuse. While it might be easier to keep pounding out relatively old-fashioned songs like final encore “Knotty Pine”, it’s the band’s dedication to a more complex musical cause which is the one most worth celebrating. Hearing them ignite every kink of “Stillness is The Move” or “Cannibal Resource” is something to hold dear until they visit these parts again.

48 words on support act tUnE-YaRdS. Coming down from the mountains with a bundle of those same warped melodies once foraged by Panda Bear, Merrill Garbus took the relatively lo-fi contours of her “BiRd-BrAiNs” album and transformed its dips and chips into lovely, smashing, slightly kooky hooks and shapes. No doubt, she’ll be back.

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