While love lost has given us some of the world’s greatest art, it also lends itself to the petty and the whiny. Dirty Projectors‘ self-titled album was written and recorded after David Longstreth’s breakup with girlfriend and band member Amber Coffman. Instead of showing any amount of understanding, contrition, or self-awareness, the album is full of potshots and low-blows making Longstreth at times seem like the artsiest petulant child.
The album’s tone is set from the getgo on “Keep Your Name.” It begins with some beautiful vocal manipulation and harmonies. As the song develops, it gets glitchier and Longstreth tries his hand at something like rapping. First he says “I don’t think I ever loved you/that was some stupid shit”, obviously replaying a breakup fight repeating Coffman’s line to him then his snarky commentary. The mix of rapping and singing sounds very Beyonce Lemonade, even in the way it is produced, but coming from a privileged white male perspective it feels petty at best. The snark continues as Longstreth raps “we shared kisses and visions/but like Kiss’ shithead Gene Simmons said ‘a band is a brand.’” If there was any questions that this would be the first solid album to quote Gene Simmons, the illusion is quickly shattered with the track’s final blow “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.” Is there any way to sound more pretentious? Well, there is because that’s only the first track.
On “Winner Take Nothing,” Longstreth continues to regurgitate this argument, singing “now I’m shining like tears in the rain/and you’re shining like fifteen of fame.” In this case, the argument shifts from him sounding unhappy that art was not treated as a vehicle for truth to something more petty; Longstreth actually sounds jealous of Coffman’s “fame.”
Previously on “Up in the Hudson,” Longstreth tells the story of discovering Coffman. “The first time ever I saw your face, laid my eyes on you/was at the Bowery Ballroom stage, you were shredding Marshall tubes and I knew that I had to get to know you, why don’t you pack your clothes?/Move to Brooklyn on your on and join the band, come on the road.” He makes it sound as if he personally plucked her off the stage and gave her this great opportunity and on “Winner Take Nothing,” he is now showing the demons of jealousy. A sort of narrative of “I made you this famous and this is how you repay me?” Longstreth actually says as much on “Winner Take Nothing” when he sings “I built my life around our love to ground your dreamworld/I held so tight but I never could give you enough.”
If nothing else Dirty Projectors’ self-titled album should make the world wish Amber Coffman well. Dealing with a lover that does not support your ambition and tries to make you feel bad about pursuing it is no fun. The truth is that Amber Coffman does not owe Longstreth anything. The quicker Longstreth realizes that, the better off he will be.