Breakup pop albums are about as ubiquitous as Apple products and Starbucks these days. Often sacrificing poignancy for catchy hooks riddled with soulless relationship platitudes, pop music seems to have its sights set on separating the human from the heartbreak.
Thankfully, this is not the case on the newest self-titled album from pop experimentalists Dirty Projectors. This project finds frontman David Longstrenth taking a novelistic approach to heartbreak pop that puts the human back in the heartbreak.
Dirty Projectors is a deeply personal work in more ways than one — it is personal in the way the story is told and by the one who tells it. The story serves as a chronology of each stage of heartbreak in the aftermath of Longstrenth’s separation with on-and-off former band mate Amber Coffman. It’s a story of newfound loneliness from a group that is now, literally, a lot lonelier.
Gone is the five-piece setup from the last band — the only official member on this album is Longstrenth. It’s just him and his heartbreak, keeping each sound of sorrow coming straight from the source.
With a stripped-down lineup comes a stripped-down sound. Both the bombastic percussion and the zig-zagging Animal Collective-flavored synths that gave life to previous albums such as Swing Lo Magellan and Bitte Orca are few and far between on Dirty Projectors. The general oddities in rhythm and melody from past albums persist, but this time around they are used to illustrate a confused persona rather than to create one.
On Dirty Projectors, Longstrenth’s bout with love and the succeeding aftermath is one filled with painful memories and even more painful self-admissions. “I don’t think I loved you/That was some stupid shit/I wanted what you wanted but we never really felt the same,” sings Longstrenth on the opening track “Keep Your Name,” as he struggles with the honest truth of what was.
The song continues to masterfully juggle past and present, as Longstrenth decorates the chorus with a warped sample of “Impregnable Question,” an old Dirty Projector’s track released in 2012 that detailed the romantic beginnings between Longstrenth and Coffman.
The lyrics sampled, “We don’t see eye to eye,” were the sole negative point in a song that was otherwise entirely positive about their new found love. Its presence on “Keep Your Name” perfectly conveys the dismay of small leaks sinking great ships.
It’s moments like this on Dirty Projectors that remind the listener this isn’t just an album about heartbreak, this is an album about Longstrenth’s heart break. It’s a work so deeply personal it is impossible to separate the art from the artist, and with this comes a listener relating to a person rather than an idea.