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Snap Judgment: Dirty Projectors' 'Ascending Melody'

January 11, 2010 |  3:20 pm

Ascendingmelody There’s a funny throwaway moment in the middle of Dirty Projectors’ new single, “Ascending Melody.” As the band’s three female singers hit an appropriately rising lead line atop an atonal guitar clamor, frontman David Longstreth warbles “Rise above!” -- a shout out to his band’s breakthrough album, a thorough deconstruction of Black Flag’s “Damaged.”

It’s a witty little joke in and of itself, but it also heralds a new turn for this odd band. Their singularly screwy sound has become popular enough for them to get a bit meta.

The two tracks on the “Ascending Melody” single (or, heh, a “Digital 7-inch,” as they put it on the free download site) sidle up nicely with the rest of their “Bitte Orca” album, released last year to widespread acclaim. More bands should put out stand-alone singles in the interim between albums, even if these tracks scratch a now-familiar itch.

“Melody” begins with a sunburned little guitar riff that’s cheerful though a bit out of key at the edges. Once the easygoing drums drop in, the tune turns into a relatively straightforward doo-wop song, something Ellie Greenwich might have come up with after too much coffee. Plenty of guitarists spend a career coming up with a lick as sweet-hearted as the acoustic thing Longstreth plays, but he only hits it twice without fuss or fireworks. No huge instrumental freakouts or breakdowns, just a charming little lick repeated and elaborated on for four minutes. It’s a fine confection, and the band’s second most-instantly-replayable tune yet.  

“Emblem of the World” is more meditative. Distorted drums only come in as punctuation for the droning chime that drives the song, and the Projectors stay in that deadpan sing-speak that’s melodic yet somehow mercurial and hook-less. But even on B-sides of B-sides, the band only sounds like itself and dares you to keep up. “Why should we choose another useless metaphor without a regard for a passionate need?” Longstreth sings here.

At this point, Longstreth’s grand swirl of ideas have become their own sonic reference point; even a back-catalog reminder sounds like something new. Nice trick, that.

-- August Brown