It's been around 30 years — since the CBGB's era — since New York City has had a really vital rock scene. But they've sure got one now. Albums by Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear have already been flagged as two of this year's best. And I think another adventurous young band with Brooklyn roots, Dirty Projectors, has made a third.
An experimental rock group with a shifting lineup, led by recent Yale graduate David Longstreth, Dirty Projectors can be playfully high-concept; the band has made a song cycle whose storyline somehow involves Eagles singer Don Henley and a highly abstracted remake of the LP Rise Above by the '80s punk rockers in Black Flag. But Bitte Orca — the band's latest release, so named because Dirty Projectors liked the sound of it — is more straightforward. It focuses on the mixed male and female voices of the band members. While parts are influenced by modern R&B, the arrangements are far different. The single "Stillness Is the Move," for example, strikes me as a bit like Destiny's Child teaming up with Talking Heads.
I've enjoyed other records by Dirty Projectors, but sometimes they seemed too eager to show off their smarts. The latest doesn't overthink — or, rather, overthinks just enough to balance head and heart. Recently, I saw the group at a show in New York City, and the mix of tart strangeness and melodic sugar in the vocals reminded me of how much depth the best pop musicians bring to their art. And it really made me hope that Dirty Projectors' members are in it for the long haul.