Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Published in 2009
First off, thanks to Kari for the suggestion of the album. I'm doing my housekeeping on the blog while I am listening to it, but I can already tell that this is going to be a weird album to write up, which explains your insistence that I do it. I hope that I live up to your very high expectations.
So, I'm listening to the album right now, as I am writing this, which is the usual way for me to write these things. I described this to someone I was recently talking to as just playing the music and letting the words that come to me just come out. I kind of just freestyle these posts, and whatever comes out, I just let go. If it is over a sentence back, I'm usually just letting it go, and trying to move onto the next thought. Usually I try to make the sentence my level of editing, because if I keep going over and over the words that I write down, I'll never publish them. There is another reason though, which is that I am trying to process something that is inside time.
When I think about time inside the concept of music, there are several layers that I think about. First, the time that it takes just to blankly listen to an album. For example, today's album is, according to wikipedia, forty-one minutes, eight seconds long. This is 'real time'. The meatspace time that is embedded in the drive inside of my iPod to play the music. Second is song time. Each song is a boundary inside of that larger album time. There was a conscious decision to break the album down into those segments, and therefore it is an important boundary condition to think about in those cases too. If there is a song that is too short in my opinion, it's because I thought there was more that they could develop, so I wonder why they cut it off in that time. If there is a song that was too long, I felt that it was done developing, and just was making me bored. The third layer is the actual notes, and the actual rests, and the spaces and sounds that make up the album. The fourth and most important layer of time to me though, is the perception of time while inside the album.
Let me talk about that fourth layer a bit. Sometimes, you hear an album and you know how long it is. You know that it will take you that album long to get to work, or to school, or to read a certain amount in a book. It's the concept of being 5 minutes away from something. It's never precisely 5 minutes away, but everyone knows the distance that '5 minutes away' encompasses. Sometimes, you hear an album, and you know that it is going to take way more time than the actual time. You know that your life is going to be encompassed by it, and you will not be able to get anything done in that stretch of time. Sometimes, an album is far too short, and you wish that you could be inside of it for longer. But this is only because you perceive the album to be too short.
I'm thinking about this right now, because from song one in this album, I haven't gotten a hold on how I feel about the time on this album. I can already tell that I am going to listen to this album over and over, and try to understand it more and more. It's indie rock, but it's not indie rock. It's classical, but it's not classical. The voices are spectacular. I'm not being hyperbolic, they are actually spectacles. The music takes place in the first three layers of time, but the last one is still unfixed for me. I'm not sure 'how long' it's going to take me to listen to this album. With each break in the second layer, I find myself getting a new impression of how this time is going to be broken up. I find it completely engrossing.
I'm trying to think of how I would describe this album to someone who had never heard it before. If you are actually listening to the album at the moment, you'll understand how hard it is for you to do this. At the moment, I'm listening to Useful Chamber, and it just had a beat break in the middle of a orchestral section of a song. This isn't just experimenting with sounds, but somehow composing the sounds into some wild thing that is inexplicable. Chimera rock maybe?
Yeah, I like that. I know that it is actually pretty stupid to box this kind of album into any sort of category, but I think this might be the most apt description for it. It's not just rock music, but it is some sort of strange hybrid of rock, pop, orchestral jazz, and electronic... and more. The idea of a chimera is the fusion of several creatures into one cohesive whole, that has all the advantages of the old creatures, with none of the weaknesses. Bitte Orca is a Chimera Rock album.
It's unfortunate that I can't talk and listen to this album with you right now, oh dear reader, because I feel like I'd be able to talk about it much more than I can write about it. But we are all trapped to the medium we choose, so I'm going to try to describe it to you.
I can't tell you what my favorite song is, yet, but I can tell you that Useful Chamber is the one that I would use to introduce the album to people. I really liked the way that the break beat was used, and the reentry into a large choral section with voices clashing was interesting. The use of vocal harmony in each song is incredible, and the sound of two people singing the same line at the same time is an incredible effect. The motion in the songs is readily apparent, and the voices are compelling and dynamic. If you've never heard a Dirty Projectors album, I'd compare it to the Arcade Fire, but even that is a lacking comparison.
This is an album that is going to take up a lot of my Meatspace time, I can already tell. The fact that I am listening to it for the third time in a row right now, is a pretty good indication of that. Usually I start writing after the first listen through, and then finish towards the middle or end of the second, maybe beginning of the third, but it's rare. I've been listening to this three times straight, started writing during the first one, and am trying to finish during the third one, and I couldn't write during the second listen through.
There's that time thing again. This album is making my time screw up.
Okay, I have a bit of a critical thing to say here, but you should take it with the grain of salt that I am about to give you. This album is not for everyone. You need to be able to look outside the edge of your usual tastes, and work hard to try to just let the album wash over you. If you are trying to understand it, or trying to get everything in one listen, you're going to be disappointed. It's not an album that you're going to want to be active for, but an album that should be your sole focus and attention for the whole of it's time. Some people will find it really pretentious and trying way too hard to be weird, but I think that if given the chance, most people will see it as a beautiful album of strange songs, as opposed to a weird album of strange songs. This was an experience, listening to it for the first couple of times.
Anyway, thanks again to Kari, and I hope you're happy that I did it now. I'm glad I was given a reason to listen to this, and I think that without your influence I would have never gotten around to it. So, if any of you out there reading have a suggestion that will open my mind, please, please, please give it to me. Also, please give me some non indie-rock suggestions, because I like those too.
Phil, grappling with the cold reality of death, has no pithy rejoinder,