While a completely different species, musically speaking, than Animal Collective’s monolithic Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Dirty Projectors’s Bitte Orca is every bit that album’s equal in terms of navigating uncharted sonic territory. Virtuosic but playful, unpredictable yet accessible, it’s not a genre album, encapsulating too many ideas to be filed conveniently under an “indie” or “experimental” tag. Bitte Orca is a careening, three-way balancing act between the finger-picked experimentation of the Books, the math rock of Battles, and Of Montreal’s gallivanting pop. If that sounds a bit scattershot in theory, the band smelts its influences into a nearly unrecognizable alloy, one that gleams with a newness that is realized in that ever-so-slender window of opportunity where each member of a band is firing on all cylinders.
The sound that bandleader Dave Longstreth has created on Bitte Orca is one of a chugging, smoke-huffing machine. Songs like “Temecula Sunrise” and “Useful Chamber” jerk and cough like so many churning cogs, occasionally driving their tempos up or down unexpectedly. One of the few exceptions to this nearly uniform musical theme is “Stillness Is the Move”: The organic odd-man-out, it’s a candy-coated pop song that might be what Mariah Carey would sound like accompanying a snake charmer’s flute; the exotic loop that opens the song is hypnotizing, and band members Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman coo like pop princesses lost in a New Delhi marketplace. “Remade Horizon” opens with a summery folk trot before a synth dart tears through the acoustic guitars, making way for an emerging, corkscrew prog riff. Finally, the song culminates in a staggering vocal hocket courtesy of Deradoorian.
The Dirty Projectors have always possessed the qualities needed to make a great album, but until now, the band has never demonstrated those traits all at once. There have been moments of expert musicianship and melodic genius sprinkled throughout their career (2007’s Rise Above, a reimagining of Black Flag’s Damaged, foreshadowed some of the band’s bravery, even if it was a bit misguided), but they never found a strong enough songwriting foundation. They’ve done it here, and Bitte Orca is close to a masterpiece.