Few bands embrace change quite like Dirty Projectors. The Brooklyn-based experimental rock project of singer-songwriter David Longstreth has undergone radical reinvention multiple times on all fronts, with a roster of former band members ranging from the likes of Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij to Amber Coffman, as well as a slew of musical stylings from the gloriously erratic sounds of 2009’s Bitte Orca and a collaboration with Björk to the confessional heartbreak of 2017’s Dirty Projectors. The band’s newest EP, titled Flight Tower, attempts to showcase the strengths of its latest lineup with a shift in musical direction toward a peculiarly blissful new sound.
Released June 25, Flight Tower is the second of five EPs to be released in 2020. Following the sequence started by the band’s Windows Open EP, where each new release switches vocalists, Dirty Projectors’ latest effort is spearheaded creatively by longtime band member Felicia Douglass.
Across four tracks and a brief 10 minutes, Flight Tower presents plenty of interesting ideas yet fails to coalesce into anything substantial, highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of the band’s multidirectional approach to its new music. Continuing the trend set with Windows Open, the new Dirty Projectors EP delivers another sonically pleasing but surprisingly forgettable listening experience.
Though the band takes a step in a new direction, the EP still maintains its signature quirky production. Opening track “Inner World” meanders through a field of piano before finding its groove with plucky guitars and percussion. The sounds of cars starting and dogs barking can be heard throughout the song, interesting touches that add to the strange atmosphere. Lyrically, the track embraces the group’s new musical direction. Backed by a harmony provided by Longstreth and other members of the band, Douglass sounds genuinely curious as she sings, “What if I don’t know the way to get back to the way I was?/ What if I don’t want to stay along the path uninterrupted?”
Elsewhere, the track “Self Design” rides in with a booming rhythm section and a wash of chimes, another demonstration of the group’s knack for the eccentric. While the melodies are layered and blissful, both songs feel as if they’re cut short, leaving more to be desired.
Dirty Projectors have never shied away from giving the spotlight to different voices from within the band. The track “Lose Your Love” makes the strongest case for switching up vocalists, allowing Longstreth’s off-kilter production room to flourish among Douglass’ smooth vocals. “Lose Your Love” is full of lighthearted energy, with playful bursts of piano keys and bouncy bass. On the track, Douglass sings lovingly of fearless creativity, her lyrics obscured enough to be strange, yet recognizable enough to resonate. “Switch up the perspective/ Tasting the drops as/ Every river evolves,” she sings in the song’s second verse, her alto vocals a firm yet sweet anchor for the song’s arrangement to dance around. The track is euphoric but fleeting, the only song on the EP that feels mostly formed.
“Empty Vessel” is the EP’s biggest misfire, with pitched up, delayed vocals that begin to wear on the ear as the song pounds along and detracts from the harmonies. Over its two minute runtime, the song begins to feel like a trudge, out of new ideas and devoid of any emotional weight or alluring qualities. By the time the track and the EP end, one cannot help but feel the irony. “Empty Vessel” is ultimately representative of the EP, underdeveloped and offering nothing substantial to cling to over the record’s brief runtime beyond surface level sheen.
On paper, Flight Tower should work. Introducing new creative voices into the music should make for unpredictable, exciting new songs from a band that refuses to accept complacency. Unfortunately, however, the Dirty Projectors EP suggests that perhaps quality will always beat quantity, and that some ideas need more time to grow on the vine. In a move that is unheard of for a band as creative as Dirty Projectors, Flight Tower is curiously undercooked, and surprisingly, flightless.