[EP REVIEW] 'Windows Open' - Dirty Projectors
GENRE: BAROQUE POP / INDIE FOLK / ART POP RELEASE DATE: 27 MAR 2020 In such a short span of time with graceful simplicity, Windows Open is beautiful with a healthy dose of ironic storytelling Dirty Projectors have been a constant presence of the New York indie scene since the 2000s and have gone through several line-up changes over the course of their many albums. My relationship with the band started with the release of their album Bitte Orca, specifically with the song ‘Stillness Is The Move’. Critics have cited it to have West African and alternative R&B influences, but my attraction to it was in the pairing of beautiful vocals and off-beat instrumentation, which echoes other oft-cited acts like Talking Heads & Squeeze by other reviewers. After that, through many years of indifference, my memories of the band was rekindled again by their 2018 release, Lamp Lit Prose. Their single Break Thru pushed their splendorous, New Wave acoustic-y pop sound which reminded me of why they used to blow my mind as a teenager. 2018 was also the year Dirty Projectors included Maia Friedman into their lineup, whose voice becomes the centerpiece of their new EP, Windows Open.
In a review coming from a person who has not dived deep into Dirty Projectors' discography, my perception of Windows Open might not fit the description of “comprehensive” or “comparative”. That being said, this EP is probably one of the best 10 minutes I’ve ever spent in recent memory. Produced, mixed, and co-written by David Longstreth, with lead vocals mostly by Maia Friedman; Dirty Projectors' new EP is beautifully bare-boned.
The first single 'Overlord' off of the EP immediately grabbed my attention. Dirty Projectors’ use of a pop-esque skeleton to hold the guitars, vocals and strings together makes any commentary infused within this song sound subtly goofy and downright beautiful all at the same time. Within this EP, my love for ‘Overlord’ grew. From the twisted sounding intro to the soft, saccharine vocals by Maia Friedman. The song ironically tells the story of a despot, told from the perspective of one of their fanatic followers. The dystopian first verse is an example of the oxymoronic songwriting that The Dirty Projectors executed to perfection, “Those who stay behind will be left on the shore
Who could afford not to be a part of what we're pushing toward?”. A sentimental twist to what would otherwise be a Machiavellian call for a “greater good”. “Please don’t be magnanimous, protect your neck” is one of the most oddly wonderful lines in the EP. Wrapping my head around this very compassionate reminder for a dictator is a treat. The bridge gives me Simon & Garfunkel or Joni Mitchell vibes with the cloying refrain of “How can you try not to help me”.
Although the rest of the EP might not be as musically strong as 'Overlord', 'Windows Open' contains a great, compact list of songs that feels almost as coherent as a full-fledged LP. The first track 'On The Breeze' is the simplest track in the EP, but it paints a very real sense of location in the lyrics from the very first verse: “In the rooms where windows open to the sea
In the terrace courts where kids are playing leisurely
In the quiet place where lines you trace to me
Echo up to the ceiling
Memory on the breeze”
As the narrative of the song flows from describing a place to existential dread (“Do the dramas play as characters hope and believe”), I get this imagery in my head of a person zoning out while staring out a window. All of the things within their line of sight start to blend in with the anxious introspection of a person at a crossroads. (Probably the quarantine making me feel that way as well gave me that impression). There’s just something about the way this song is written that makes even the claps in the background ring with trepidation, like a hesitant score for fleeting days.
‘Search for Life’ shares the beautiful vocal harmonies & choral magnificence with ‘Overlord’, and possesses a great moment of transition between the suspenseful strings and melancholic guitar. The lyrics are as to be expected from a song of that title, with a large dose of lost feelings and the feeling of being lost.
The EP ends on a terrific note with ‘Guarding the Baby’. Every guitar melody on this EP is amazingly charming and immediate, and ‘Guarding the Baby’ just seals the deal. This track has a touch of humour in it, with the humour arching over this story of a woman taking care of a child in the middle of a “wasteland”, deflecting any sort of patronising help (“Please, don’t offer me a chair,man”), or possibly asking for people to genuinely assist her instead of offering half-hearted gestures. Maybe I’m looking at it too literally, but the way Maia sings the line “guarding the baby” comes off as so resigned and tired. The song has some of my other favourite lyrics in the EP too, with “Oh they don’t care, the winter is owned by the spring”, scrutinising the kind of hope which makes people dismiss real struggles by promising to themselves a better future (even though they don’t do anything about it; simply waiting for the “spring”(“Please don’t operate on stillness”, a possible callback to their old single as well)). Then there’s the hopelessness in the line “No way we’ll win/Played like monopoly”.
In such a short span of time without doing too much much, Windows Open keeps my ears glued to every instance of its wit. Sometimes, akin to artists like Caroline Polachek, Maia Friedman’s voice has an uncanny valley quality that lies in the middle of robotic and angelic. The stilted, succinct delivery of prose makes the pithy statements act like great preludes to the moments when the words flow like a stream. Although very little happens in terms of production, the musical arrangements by David Longstreth always feel purposeful in changing the emotional course of a song, or even when it's just there to make things more beautiful. Even if the thrust of the EP is the guitar, the little splotches of electronic glitching add a meaningful ambient to the tracklist. Windows Open is not The Dirty Projectors at their most adventurous. However, it’s the simplicity and charm that makes this an incredible trip.
5 / 5