2012 has been a prolific year for Dave Longstreth and Dirty Projectors. First with the full length release of Swing Lo Magellan in July, followed by the release in September of Longstreth's short film Hi Custodian, featuring members of Dirty Projectors along with music from Swing Lo Magellan, and now a follow up EP, About To Die, released just four months after the aforementioned full-length. About To Die is a kind of spin-off of Swing Lo Magellan as it shares its title and first track with the second song from the LP released earlier this year.
Longstreth, lead singer and primary creative entity of the band, admits in an interview that Swing Lo Magellan was more of a collection of individual songs with little to tie them together thematically. This was due to a number of factors such as the amount of time over which the album's songs were written and recorded, (over a year), as well as a conscious effort by Longstreth to write less self-concsiously and exude a more raw and personal quality in his music. About To Die continues in this more personal style, but acts as a departure from thematic non connectivity of songs found on SLM. If each song on SLM represents an individual thematic direction, then About To Die is a distinct choice to follow one of these single themes more comprehensively.
About To Die begins with electronic drum samples and hand claps. These are joined by gentle plucks and strums on strings. The percussion develops fragmented and erratic, while oddly keeping a consistent rhythm. The second track, "While You're Here," is beautiful in it's minimalism and the raw emotional energy of Longstreth's vocals. Just strings and vocals wrapped up and moving with an almost Disney quality. "Here Til It Says I'm Not," follows the flighty second track and immediately grounds the listener with the entrance of driving and dryly recorded drums. This song is the most traditional sounding pop song of the four. Lovely harmonized oohs materialize from behind this groove revealing this song as a doo-wop inspired ballad à la Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. In the choruses, the drums are just a fraction of a beat behind the rest of the song offering a purposeful, lazy kind of delivery that adds to the laid back mood of the song. The EP wraps up with the final track, "Simple Request," which meanders along with psychedelic stylings and fairly heavy and slightly distorted drums.
Longstreth's vocals on About To Die are soulful with a bit of squeakyness to them. They scratch and break and are traditionally flawed but charming because of this and because of their honest delivery. He howls with the vocal inflections of a pop star singing the National Anthem. But whereas the pop star is showing off their tonal mastery of their vocal chords, Longstreth's inflections are emotional reactions to the music and lyrical content of these songs.
Lyrically, the thematic overarch of About To Die, is existential, possibly in the presence of one's own realized mortality. The songs on the record develop inquisitively, exploring ideas about being "here," and being "alive," with a distinction that however closely related these words may be, they are not synonymous.
About To Die was a very pleasantly arranged short story of a record, totaling just over twelve minutes in length. It comes and goes and the EP's downfall is that it only whets one's appetite and (to continue this metaphor) leaves the listener hungry for more. However, if the band continues at their current rate of production, there should hopefully be something new for Dirty Projectors fans to digest not too far into the future.