Melody, rhythm, and harmony are the cornerstones of great pop music, and they’re all present and accounted for in the music of the Dirty Projectors. It’s just that, in the hands of bandleader Dave Longstreth, they get thoroughly uprooted, dismantled, and recombined as if they were blocks of Lego—transforming order into anarchy and back again.
Swing Lo Magellan is at once the Dirty Projectors’ most immediately inviting and inscrutable album to date, cannily obscuring whether their aesthetic is, as one song puts it—“accident or intention.” The Brooklyn art-pop outfit’s sixth album doesn’t boast any jams that would make for obvious Solange Knowles cover candidates (see: 2009’s incongruously slinky crossover single “Stillness Is the Move”), but Longstreth is still fascinated by the twitch and glitch of modern R&B, and the great challenge and joy of this music lies in hearing him try to reconcile it with the classic rock of his youth, be it Queen-sized pomp-rock (“Offspring Are Blank”) or McCartney-esque folk-pop (the title track).
Longstreth knows his music can be difficult: While he loses himself in the sun-kissed groove of “Unto Caesar,” you can hear co-vocalist Amber Coffman intrusively ask, “When should we bust into the harmony?” before she throws up her hands and says in exasperation, “That doesn’t make any sense, what you just said.” But for Longstreth, the Dirty Projectors’ byzantine strategies represent not an attack on pop but a recognition of its true value: Melody is a wonderful, precious thing, and it’s a reward you should have to work for.
Playlist picks: “About to Die,” “Offspring Are Blank,” “Unto Caesar”
Dirty Projectors play the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave.) on July 6.