Alienation, Orchestras, Empires
Early Dirty Projectors records had been solitary affairs, almost entirely the work of lone leader Dave Longstreth at work in various bedrooms, until The Getty Address came along. The ridiculously ambitious set marked both a huge, catalyzing change for Longstreth, and, in some ways, business as usual.
For his fourth LP, Diamond Dave recruited orchestral players —strings, woodwinds, choir— in service of a grand, scored work: a narrative suite telling the tale of a teenaged Don Henley roadtripping into a mythical America, re-exploring the routes of colonialization, the plunder of the land, the rise of the Oil-Powered Empire, and the loss of its citizens' connection to the land; with allusions to Aztec society, Rumsfeld-era America, peyoté visions, and Eagles records buried deep within its inscrutable lyrics and oddball self-reference.
As it goes for many spending a night at the opera, the narrative will be incidental for most listeners; and, instead, it will be the spectacle —here, the strain and wail of Longstreth's voice and the brutality of his edits— that catches the eye. The DPs leader, himself, evokes such ancient theatrical tradition: The Getty Address self-billed as a 'glitch-opera.' In which scored contributions from an orchestra of players are treated as sound-sources and taken to on a computer, cut up into snippet-sized waveforms, wrested from their natural settings, and shorn of their natural attack/decay.
In such, Longstreth opens himself up to a new world of collaborations —Yacht leader (and Marfa, TX lover) Jona Bechtolt is on here, too— whilst making another album, effectively, entirely in isolation. Whilst making a study of isolationism; with its surreal, unreal 'sampling' creating an artificial environment in which the real are turned ersatz. And, yes, this does seem to be a fitting motif for America circa 2005.
Tour-Guiding, Not Touring
Dirty Projectors were, at the time of The Getty Address, barely even a cult band. 2003's career-catalyzing The Glad Fact had caused a few ripples of fervent critical appraisal (mostly limited to future future Vampire Weekend leader Ezra Koenig and, um, well, me, too), and advanced the band's name from out of the fits of complete obscurity. But in an era before the blogosphere's buzz cycles and indie-music upward mobility —and with Dirty Projectors barely playing live, ever— Longstreth was doing this largely to entertain himself.
Which in part explains the strangeness of its central conceit, and the eternally-distant, out-of-reach nature of its narrative. The liner-notes go along way towards explaining the making of the album, but not so much towards clarifying the story; Longstreth's letter to Don Henley probably comes closer. But amidst the lyrical babble, there are striking images. "Time birthed spilled blood/for to mine as oil yours," vocalist Lucy Greene sings, amidst the stark, scraped strings of "Time Birthed Spilled Blood." Longstreth offers a reply —"We will settle here/on the plain/this be our island"— who evocations of his themes are as clear as the rest of the LP are opaque.
What rises out of the soup, moreso than glinting lyrics, are pop-songs that suggest the love of melody that would resound throughout breakout albums like Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. "Jolly Jolly Ego" daubs Reichian percussion under a hysterical flailing of funky falsetto; "I Will Truck" (later covered by Painted Palms), and "Tour Along the Potomac" ambles awesomely through skitzoid percussion, woodwind overtures, and a tour-guide's shpiel of Civil War battle-sights.
Years later, with Dirty Projectors records having grown more conceptually taut (on 2007's Rise Above) and way more audience-friendly (on Bitte Orca), there's a tendency to view The Getty Address as a before-they-were-famous oddity. But there's no doubt it's a serious, seriously-strange work of utter artistic singularity; one who's sense of daring, artistic ambition, and utter gumption blazed a trail for countless orchestrally-minded, home-recording oddballs who'd follow.
Record Label: Western Vinyl
Release Date: April 5, 2005