Album Reviews

Dirty Projectors + Björk – Mount Wittenberg Orca EP

on July 19, 2010, 8:00am
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By now, most people who would be interested in reading a review about Dirty Projectors and Björk know how the pair came together. But just in case, I’ll present a quick recap. Our friends over at Stereogum asked both parties to be involved in a benefit concert last year. When both said yes, he went a step further and asked if they would like to collaborate. Both said yes again, and Dave Longstreth got to work on the songs that would eventually become Mount Wittenberg Orca.

According to Longstreth, the songs were inspired by a pack of whales that Dirty Projectors member Amber Coffman came across while walking along a ridge on Mount Wittenberg. Each singer on the album has a role – Björk plays the part of the mother whale, the ladies of the Dirty Projectors play her children, and Longstreth plays the part of Amber. As a concept album, it doesn’t have quite epic scope that classics like Tommy or The Wall do, but this one does some good – all proceeds from the album are going towards creating international marine protected areas.

For some, the joint force of Björk and the Dirty Projectors is just a weird combo in a sea of endless collaborations. For others, it’s a perfect union of two of the most unique voices in music today. Regardless of your personal opinions toward either artist, it’s always exciting to see two creative minds of this stature come together. The results aren’t always great, but seeing two musical entities having to share the spotlight and maybe step out of their comfort zones usually proves to be – at the very least – interesting.

Thankfully for us, Mount Wittenberg Orca proves to be more than an interesting side note. The album opens with “Oceans”, a wordless number that introduces the album and sets the oceanic tone; it features Björk, Amber, Angel, and Haley doing their best impressions of whales bellowing under the sea. This proves to be Wittenberg’s most Björk-esque track, as the rest of the songs are unmistakably the Dirty Projectors featuring Björk, and not the other way around.

After the intro, the EP flows seamlessly into two recent live favorites, “On and Ever Onward” and “When the World Comes to an End”.  Having only heard the live version of the former with Dave singing lead, it was a treat hearing the studio version with Björk handling lead duties. She fits right in with the Dirty Projectors cannon – managing to make it sound fresh without sounding out of place or uncomfortable. Her voice meshes with the ladies of the Dirty Projectors like honey on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The PB&J is perfectly delicious on its own, but with a little honey drizzled on, it’s heavenly.

Longstreth finally emerges on the third song, “When the World Comes to an End”, but the song really highlights the supreme talents of Amber, Angel, and Haley. The DP women dazzle with their quick and constant staccatos that sound like they had to have been processed on a computer – but anyone who has seen the Projectors live recently can tell you otherwise. The remaining four songs range from playful to dark, but the focus always remains on the voices. By using less guitars and other live instruments than usual (at least for a Dirty Projectors release), the talents of the singers are showcased by default – not that anyone is complaining.

Considering those involved, Mount Wittenberg Orca is relatively simple and straightforward. It’s easily accessible and immediately enjoyable, something that can’t always be said about these two artists who like to challenge their listeners. Those looking for more complicated structures, like you might find in either back catalogue, may be disappointed – but the undemanding listen is a great thing for casual fans, and it’s a small price to pay to see these two come together.

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