Dirty Projectors’ ‘Bitte Orca’ Turns 10

When avant garde meets pop accessibility, magical things can happen.

Perhaps Dirty Projectors have always been too avant-garde for the term “accessibility” to be a real threat to their indie credibility. But nonetheless they dialed-down their quirks for their fifth album, Bitte Orca, which turns 10 years old today.

Frontman David Longstreth’s Yale music education looms large as always, but with one key difference: it feels like the compositions are in service to honest-to-god pop songs. The results are tracks like opener “Cannibal Resource” and highlight “Stillness Is the Move”; sophisticated songs woven together with catchy melodies and grooves. And they’re fun! So much fun.

Yet for all its intricacies, Bitte Orca still a deeply human album, a trait indebted to the vocals of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle. Their harmonies range from the supportive (“The Bride”) to haunting (“Useful Chamber”) to downright acrobatic (“Remade Horizon”). Their turns at lead vocals are equally impressive. Deradoorian’s “Two Doves” is a sweeping song in the vein of Sgt. Pepper’s “She’s Leaving Home.” Coffman delivers the band’s standout moment on “Stillness Is The Move.”

(It’s also worth noting the band’s fixation with R&B, a trend that’s come to dominate indie music the subsequent decade. “Stillness Is the Move” is the obvious example, but the hook of “No Intention” works like a sample.)

Accessibility can be a bitch. At its worst, a band is stripped of their sense of self while their eccentricities are reduced to gimmicks. At its best, a band can pull new fans into their universe on their terms. It’s a tricky balance to find, but that effort may result in an album unlike anything else out there.

And there’s nothing quite like Bitte Orca.