No release this year better represents a realization of potential than the new album from off-kilter indie collective Dirty Projectors. That Animal Collective record we all know and love could be seen as a similar document in this regard, but whereas the triumph of Merriweather Post Pavilion is that of a band in peak form, exercising their long-established skill, the level of success Dirty Projectors attain on Bitte Orca is of a kind they've never before reached.
As chronicled in a series of eccentric albums, the odd EP and one truly confounding reproduction of Black Flag's punk landmark Damaged from memory (2007's Rise Above), lead Projector David Longstreth has proven himself a restless prodigy, delivering inconsistently brilliant collections with just as inconsistent a line-up of musicians under the Dirty Projectors moniker. It's always been apparent that his band, no matter what the incarnation, are a formidable indie-rock collective, but the material they've churned out in the past – wildly eclectic and often maddening compositions coupled with Longstreth's otherworldly falsetto – have made for a musical output much easier to admire than love. Shards of Longstreth's more crystalline art-pop tend to find themselves sandwiched between lesser experiments.
Take, for example, the meandering crashings of "Room 13" and the half-hearted sketch of "Untitled" surrounding perhaps the band's best track, "Rise Above," on the album of the same name. Or the David Byrne-aided "Knotty Pine" nearly drowned out by the mediocrity pervading the Dark Was the Night compilation it's a part of. Not so with Bitte Orca though, a collection of nine songs, each just about as good as anything the band's ever done.
This isn't just a great album, it's some kind of lightning-in-a-bottle miracle; Longstreth has managed to channel his tendency toward going-nowhere diversions into one song: "The Bride," the only weakness in this whole set which, in reality, is about as compelling as all the other doodles Longstreth has given us (which is to say it's no disaster). Complaints about this album end there, as no other major missteps occur in the 41 minute length between the electric guitar chime of opener "Cannibal Resource" and the fading synths which close percussive stunner "Fluorescent Half-Dome." That's not to say Longstreth and company have abandoned their more artistic impulses for catchy, streamlined pop; it's just that the more jarring moments on Bitte Orca always feel cohesive and never threaten the progression of the songs.