Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)

Bitte OrcaTo say Dirty Projectors is an acquired taste would be both a probable understatement and disrespectful to the band. This is the kind of music that only happens when a kid from Yale with a big vocabulary, great taste in music and a broad musical education decides to make indie rock records. The result is mash-up of well appointed classical strings, unusual choral and vocal timings, synth-based electronic beats, and incredibly diverse guitar lines. This is art rock for those with a pop sensibility.

“Bitte Orca” is one part Jeff Buckley, one part “Graceland,” and part ’77 era Talking Heads. Any attempt to describe what happens over the course of the album’s nine songs could be seen as misleading: broadly dance music, but nothing I would know how to dance too, but then something way more precious and chamber music-like, best relegated to a drawing room, and then vocal gymnastics not really definable at all. The only real thread for me is that all directions initiated within these songs lead to and start from somewhere I can comfortably call brilliant. 

Girls – Album (Matador)

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Inevitably every year I fall hard for a record that manages to further reinvent that hazy, melodic Brian Wilson mid-60’s California glow. This year the debut from San Francisco’s “Girls” rips that page up, and then reassembles it into a glorious, grungy scrapbook of freedom and loss. The band is the primary brainchild of Christopher Owens who, as a child he survived an itinerant drifting as part of a bizarre cult only to run away from home only to reemerge years later as the author of one of the most emotive and uplifting albums of the years. There is a beautifully ragged, druggy, innocence dripping from every note.

But “Album” is an adventure in texture. It lives somewhere between rock and pop, psychedelic and lo-fi, happy and sad. A song like “Hellhole Ratrace,” my vote for the finest song of 2009, is an epic meditation on “love and affection” that starts innocently enough with a gentle guitar that  builds into a wall of emotion cycling through a few repeated chorus’ for seven blissful minutes. Other songs stay closer to the Wilson ethos of the instruments just kind of echoing the crashing of waves on the pacific and the wind through the palms i.e. “Headache.” This album is wonderfully warm place to escape and dream weird thoughts.