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A Portrait of Heartbreak

Dirty Projectors SUPPLIED

Dave Longstreth takes the reins of Dirty Projectors, turning its latest studio effort into a solo break-up record well suffused with modern R&B styling.

Dirty Projectors / Dirty Projectors

Over the past 15 years which accumulated seven studio albums, three EPs and 23 past members, American experimental indie ensemble Dirty Projectors have never been a stagnant band. At least until now. Five years after 2012's Swing Lo Magellan, the ever-morphing project essentially boils down to a mere solo endeavour of bandleader/frontman Dave Longstreth. Here, we are treated to a self-titled record that documents his break-up with long-time girlfriend/former bandmate Amber Coffman.

Without dawdling, lead single/opener Keep Your Name goes straight for the heartstrings. Amid the song's sparse piano chords and glitchy beats, Longstreth laments "I don't know why you abandoned me/ You were my soul and my partner," his vocals manipulated to the same eerily low pitch Frank Ocean employed on Blonde. Halfway through the track, things take an interesting turn as if Kanye West took over with Chipmunk vocal snippets and rap verses. "What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame," he adds, wryly taking a jab at his ex.

Death Spiral finds him drawing an analogy between his doomed romance and a horrific plane crash: "You spin me around, in a wild death spiral/ We're hitting the ground, in a fiery pile"). The Kanye West influence, particularly of his 808s & Heartbreak era, is obvious here (think falsetto and heavily Auto-Tuned vocals). Clocking in at almost eight minutes, jaunty, horn-inflected Up in Hudson chronicles the relationship from its start ("The first time ever I saw your face, laid my eyes on you/ Was the Bowery Ballroom stage …") all the way to its demise ("Now we're going our separate ways/ But we're still connected/ You'll go forward and I'll stay the same").

Work Together is dense with a cacophony of funk rhythms and anxiety-inducing synths, which tend to grate rather than please. Elsewhere, Little Bubble offers a stunning moment of contemplation while Winner Take Nothing and Cool Your Heart (feat. Dawn Richard) stand out with lush vocal harmonies and swaggering dance hall flavours. Built on a mournful organ, closing track, I See You sees him coming to terms with the dissolution of a relationship: "So I'll let go of the tether/ And you let go my heart … And we could just be in kindness and peace now seeing that the love is the art."

For an established experimental indie group like Dirty Projectors, the blatant lack of guitars and the presence of R&B and hip-hop influences here could come off as jarring to their long-time fans. But then again, this album could just as well be considered as Dave Longstreth's solo outing. To that end, it's clear that he's pushing the envelope and exploring the outer reaches of indie-pop. It might be hyped as a break-up record, but this record packs enough musical maturity, profound lyricism and intriguing sonic textures to keep listeners on their toes.

THE PLAYLIST

The Drums/ Blood Under My Belt

After veering off into a psychedelic route on their last LP Encyclopedia, The Drums are going back to their surfy indie-pop roots on their new cut, Blood Under My Belt. Lifted from their forthcoming new record Abysmal Thoughts, the song comes readily equipped with all the winsome elements that dominated their 2010 self-titled studio debut. "Yes it's true, that I hurt you/ But I still love you, love you, I still do," frontman Jonathan Pierce implores over a familiar-sounding, jangly guitar line.

Thalab/ Morning Before My Plant Dies

Hailing from Barcelona, London-based duo Thalab comprises cousins Oscar and Max, and together they specialise in melding eclectic sonic influences from folk and techno to house and dream pop. Morning Before My Plant Dies, their third single from their debut EP, combines a deep bass groove with electronic components drawn from subgenres like electronica, drum 'n' bass and trip hop. The result here is both inventive and fascinating -- exactly the two qualities we're hoping to hear more of on this year's releases.

Sudan Archives/ Time

Another artist to keep an eye out for this week is Sudan Archives, a 22-year-old self-taught violinist/vocalist from Cincinnati who's now based out of LA. Her latest cut, Time, highlights her flair for improvising violin melodies and interweaving them with synth loops and percussive elements of West African folk music. Archives sings about time and how ephemeral it all can be ("All you wanted/ All you wanted was time"), which perhaps explains why the whole track lasts just two minutes.

Coldplay & The Chainsmokers/ Something Just Like This

By the look of it, it seems like Chris Martin and Co have had it with being a rock band. Their foray into mainstream pop has been anything but subtle (let's face it, it's hard to be low key when you choose to work with the likes of Avicii, Rihanna, Beyonce and Tove Lo). Now, the guys finally jump the shark with Something Just Like This, a collaboration with the one-dimensional EDM duo The Chainsmokers. Featuring the same simplistic melodies the pair have used multiple times before (Roses, Closer), the song contains trite, potentially cringeworthy lyrics about a non-perfect relationship ("I'm not looking for somebody/ With some superhuman gifts … Just something I can turn to/ Somebody I can kiss").

Calvin Harris (feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)/ Slide

This week's star-studded affair comes in the form of Slide, a collaboration between Scottish DJ/producer Calvin Harris, R&B singer-songwriter Frank Ocean and rap outfit Migos. "Do you slide on all your nights like this?/ Do you try on all your nights like this?" Ocean sings in the opening verse, his weary nonchalance counteracted by the breezy, lite-funk production and Quavo and Offset's braggadocio verses about having "a hundred Gs" and making "a million on the average". This is by far the least Calvin Harris-sounding track by Calvin Harris, and to that end, we're so very thrilled.

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