Dirty Projectors released the follow up to their (debatably) breakout LP, Bitte Orca, in July. Bitte Orca was their seventh album, and naturally, it’s more than meaningful for a band to turn around a name the way that Dirty Projectors did when it hadn’t faired well for years. In spite of their success, Dirty Projectors have always been changing, and July’s release, Swing Lo Magellan was no different. It took a concentration of the tricks they picked up on Bitte Orca and applied them to similarly syncopated but much simpler, sometimes Simon and Garfunkel-esque tracks. About to Die, the band’s new EP, breaks out one of Swing Lo’s bounciest, catchiest tracks and makes it the kicking off point for a few previously unheard and related tracks.
Like the epigraph of a novel, About to Die’s title track, which also comes from the previously released album, doesn’t so much serve as a great track here - we’ve already heard it after all - but rather serves as a lens for us to view the following tracks through. About to Die is as strong as ever, stuttering over itself while Amber and Haley’s voices flow in the background. The following tracks then don’t stray far from Swing Lo’s incarnation of Dirty Projector’s sound. About to Die puts us in a warm place, albeit one tinted by the track’s broader message, spoken to in part by the track’s name itself. While You’re Here is the first track that we’re hearing that’s new here, and this, following About to Die begins to have a much stronger movement in context.
The new pieces on About to Die are strong. While You’re Here is a warm and simple piece that finds Dirty Projector’s women ooo-ing in the back and band leader Dave Longstreth contemplating over a plucky guitar. It’s a description that could fit many a track on Swing Lo, but that’s hardly an issue. We’d have loved to have Swing Lo be an extension of Bitte, but the band gave us something else. Now, to get an extension of Swing Lo is equally pleasing. While You’re Here is about a friend who passed away, and as usual, Longstreth deals with this in a way that both gives access to Longstreth’s emotions while providing meaning to the event itself.
Another trick we found on Swing Lo was Dirty Projector’s newfound ability to switch in and out of fully fleshed but altogether different styles at a moment’s notice. It’s not so extreme here, but on mid-EP track Here Til It Says I’m Not we get a similar style of mimicry of big folk singer tracks as, part way through the song, Longstreth bursts into something large and booming that could stretch across a landscape. The description may sound tacky, and though the sentiment may be, Longstreth’s application is exciting and powerful. Closing track Simple Request doesn’t particularly serve as a means of taking us out but, like the rest of the EP, is yet another small variation on the sounds of Swing Lo. This one works on those same beats and can easily fit on the same playlist as your Mamas and Papas’ songs. Like Swing Lo, this all emphasizes Longstreth as an emotional core of the band, rather than simply a band leader.
What then is the purpose of About to Die as an EP? These are all great tracks - as good as any one on the LP proper. It seems that these are songs that simply didn’t make their way onto the album for a lack of space or a poor flow, not a lacking quality or coherency. Find a track to swap out, and one would hardly notice the difference. About to Die doesn’t stand on its own, however. It’s a brief series of tracks, and while they’re all great, Dirty Projectors don’t exactly make in-your-face hits. The EP is great, and any Dirty Projectors fan - of which there are more than a few - will love it every bit as much as Swing Lo. However, it’s no more than that - a simple of extension of Swing Lo. Tracks like While You’re Here, which originated prior to Swing Lo’s inception, shed an interesting light on the change of sound that occurred in making the LP, and that’s something that fans will love to listen for. For anyone else though: why start here? The album is just as engaging, and it’s four times as long.