David Longstreth is a lunatic. The reams of evidence speak for themselves. Take for example, the title of the album. An obscure reference or esoteric metaphor, surely? No, the words sound good together. That’s more than a little fitting, though. One’s the German word for please, and the other’s a carnivorous whale. Totally unrelated until a mind sucking inspiration via Tesla induction from sources we could never comprehend decided to juxtapose them, and now it’s a thing.
Why is that fitting? Because that’s what the music on Bitte Orca is, too. Stuff, jammed together, because it sounds kind of good. When bands do that, they’re usually “experimental”. Well, Dirty Projectors are experimental. They’re experimental when Solange Knowles covers Stillness Is The Move. They’re experimental when Annie Clark claims “you’d need to go to classes to bridge the Dave Longstreth gap”, guitar-wise. They are at the vanguard of music, deconstructing it completely, rethinking it and executing it with a new palate.
This review could easily be a prose explication of everything that happens on Bitte Orca, from the shuddering, invocatory guitar part at the start of Cannibal Resource to the last pulses of the lobotomised organ on Fluorescent Half-Dome. But what good would that be? Everyone has ears, and I imagine nearly everyone has headphones. Use them, and you’ll experience maybe the most meticulously produced, perfectly mixed album you’ll hear.
But here, I’ll stick to what’s rewriting the script for everyone else. How about an album with fantastic harmonies that DON’T invite a comparison to the Beach Boys? I’m sure in the initial reviews somebody managed to say they were Wilsonian or surfy or something, but they’re not. Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman’s harmonies fill the space a keyboard, or strings, or even a non-arachnid guitar would fill on a regular album. They are not window dressing, they are structurally important bricks in the fabric of the songs.
The aahs after the initial BITTE ORCA ORCA BITTE section of Useful Chamber [3.09] nearly popped my eyeballs with excitement when I first properly noticed them. Why? Well, the first time round, they were harsh, nasal. The second time, they were dove-like and soothing. Same syllable, same notes, same harmony, but a step to a totally new mood, nonetheless. It’s that attention to texture and detail that makes Bitte Orca such a rewarding listen. Put it in a museum if you don’t want to listen to it now, with the scores and “On top of every mountain there is a longing for another even higher mountain” written calligraphically over a drippingly derivative Longstreth cast as Alexander at the Hindu Kush.
I might not be giving much of an impression of the album. Two Doves is an acoustic folk song with string backing, prettier than carved crystal. What’s the Dave Longstreth gap here? Well, try the line “Your hair is like an eagle”. Temecula Sunrise is a pretty immediate, riffy piece of work at times, but fuck knows what it’s actually about – guy in new house with something that’s like Gatorade in some way, who then agrees to let someone move in with him if they agree to do the dishes. He is confident the new housemate will do the dishes.
There aren’t enough question marks in the printed history of the English language to account for every baffling moment on Bitte Orca. But that’s the beauty of it. If you’re listening properly, you’ll be surprised roughly once every five seconds. It’s a stunning piece of artifice, without category or place in any current generic spidergram.
Its originality means that it will open doors for bands that follow, both in terms of style and simply in terms of showing how pop music can be. After all, calm down the guitar part and smooth the drums out and it could easily be Mariah Carey singing Stillness Is The Move. It’s not though, thankfully. Bitte Orca will be a monument, a fork in the road musically. Right now, it’s just what it is. It never sits still, it constantly amazes and yet it’s eminently listenable. There aren’t many better.
Eight out of the ten years of the 00s, this’d be a lock for number one. Longstreth’s fairly contemplative, it seems from interviews. The video to Stillness Is The Move is excellent. Here’s the St. Vincent interview where Annie coined the Longstreth gap, and the Solange Knowles cover.