Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Dance For You

Two songs to help speed this blog’s transformation into a Dirty Projectors fan site

I mentioned that when I saw Dirty Projectors perform Song of the Earth with the LA Philharmonic, my main takeaway was that I wish I understood music better to fully appreciate it. It was very much a modern orchestral performance, meaning that it likely had a lot of significance to the artists that was lost on someone like me.

But at the same time, parts of it were catchy. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a hook running through my head that I haven’t been able to place, until realizing that it was from that performance.

It also reminded me that I still haven’t listened to a lot of Dirty Projectors’ older material, since I just keep listening to my favorite songs over and over. So I made a concerted effort to hop around the older albums, which I’ve bounced off of in the past as “too weird” or “too dense,” and I’m realizing I’ve been sitting on a neglected gold mine of interesting — and accessible, and lovely — music.

“Dance For You” from their album Swing Lo Magellan is just wonderful. It’s my theory that each human is given a maximum of five perfect melodies they can come up with in their lifetime, and I suspect that Longstreth here used one of mine that was going unfulfilled.

And this isn’t even one of the purported “highlights” of the album, which also includes “Swing Lo Magellan,” “Impregnable Question,” “Irresponsible Tune,” and my favorite, “Gun Has No Trigger.” Instead, it seems to sit quietly in the middle of the album like a simple and catchy long song with guitar and hand claps — which aren’t even syncopated, or a completely different time signature than the rest of the song, which is odd for Dirty Projectors — adding a fuzzy guitar solo, and then culminating with a layer of strings that makes my heart swell.

Beyond the lyrics, it feels like an homage to “I Know There’s An Answer” by The Beach Boys. (I didn’t hear Pet Sounds until it’d been remastered and re-issued for what must’ve been the dozenth time, so I knew the song as “Hang On To Your Ego,” and then only from Frank Black’s cover).

I’d heard people list Brian Wilson as an influence on Dirty Projectors, but I never really got the connection until these two songs. Pet Sounds has always seemed like an album that I first heard too late — I can appreciate how it must’ve felt like a revelation coming out of nowhere at the time, with the music going off in directions you’d never expect from a pop record. But by the time I got around to it, I’d been listening to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for years.

The two songs seem to me like the work of musicians who were more than capable of a lifetime putting out catchy, impossible-to-forget pop songs, but had almost zero interest in doing that. If you weren’t making something unlike anything people have heard before, what was the point?