No, we didn’t plan for this to be Controversy Wednesday…
Katherine St Asaph: A couple days ago, the perpetual airbag suffocation device known as music-critic Twitter paused its bemoaning of the death of the American experiment to bemoan the near-completed death, or maybe just those objecting to the death, of indie rock. The half-backpedaled eulogy, delivered by Dave Longstreth and Robin Pecknold, was insufferable in every way you’d expect: breading a Migos concept in irony and detachment then frying until soggy (“the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience” is some real Chip’s Challenge manual hot-sorrow-bath-in-despair-room shit); those particular flinchy blog-writing mannerisms (“just a thought thought thought”) that always read to me like someone bottled the concept of ghosting; the sense that no one involved had ever liked or acknowledged artistry in, a song by a woman. A trinity of last known good music (“progressive w/o devolving into Yes-ish largesse”) is presented, it’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest and Bitte Orca again, the canon remains untroubled and the idea of progressiveness remains frozen in 2009. “Up in Hudson” is of this school, and its innovations are: backmasking, YouTube high schoolers’ multitrack videos, a jury-rigged recreation of playback singing or Kate Bush, a Peter Gabriel beat, 2017’s requisite snaps and cadences from better R&B songs, an outro of oompah farting. Self-indictment is everywhere: the Vernonesque trilling of “move to Brooklyn on your own” like a savage-but-obvious indie parody, the underlining of the one line about sex with gag-barbershop vocals out of a Lonely Island sketch, the recruitment of Kanye and Tupac and Roberta Flack and Molly Bloom as the unvolunteered Greek chorus of a mundane twentysomething relationship. (Press release: “a piece of epic storytelling.” Actual story: basically the Chainsmokers.) A specific relationship, too; this is the second consecutive Dirty Projectors single that is an explicit, all-but-named plaint about Longstreth’s breakup with Amber Coffman. Unlike “Keep Your Name,” “Up in Hudson” says nothing so contemptuous as “I don’t think I ever loved you, that was some stupid shit” or self-righteous as “your heart is saying clothing line / my body said Naomi Klein, No Logo.” The 808sisms of the outro exist to embody the anger and bitterness Longstreth leaves as abstractions, as if to sprinkle the perimeter of the lyric with anti-feminist-blogger garlic. And sure, it’s a double standard to find this sort of thing searing honesty from women and disingenuous wallowing (at best) from men. So it’s not that I object, per se. I just don’t care.
Alfred Soto: Irritating, but I’m not about to parse the depths of its ability to irritate me. Channeling electronic manipulations through a Lindsey Buckingham-indebted sensibility that delights in whimsy, David Longstreth has a good ear but not much sense; Dirty Projector tracks are often too thin to support the clutter he heaps on them. “Up in Hudson” is strongest when the vocals disappear in its final third.
Maxwell Cavaseno: The awkward use of weird Eastern samples, esoteric horns and early James Blake cyborg-twisted vocals ensure that we’re supposed to hear arty reverence, but Dave Longstreth is more fascinated with making things that feel ornate than things that feel good. Nobody else can make listening to Kanye sound more pretentious than even Kanye himself would insist it is.
David Sheffieck: The only time Dirty Projectors were even slightly tolerable — at least as background music in “hip” stores in 2009 — was when they managed an occasional woman-fronted track. Even then, their inability to manage any sort of coherent songwriting turned it into a crapshoot. This rickety assortment of sounds lacks that slightly redeeming grace and stumbles around for a grating, unnecessary 7:48. If we ever needed indie-prog, we definitely don’t need David Longstreth to be the one to make it.
Juana Giaimo: My patience for experimental music has decreased, but I still consider myself a fan of Dirty Projectors. Since Bitte Orca, Dave Longstreth has acquired a new sensibility, one that favors his emotions over the aim of making a unique sound. He begins “Up in Hudson” with warm and quiet vocal melodies, joined by his usual playful backing vocals and some strident horns to create different textures, then duplicates his voice in a bittersweet crescendo. The lyrics don’t aim to portray an epic love but the simple rise and fall of a relationship like any other — and it’s exactly for being like any other relationship, for putting together two people, that it was unique.
Tim de Reuse: The level of detail in the production (the scattered electronics, the growly brass harmonies, the Bon Iver-worshiping vocal treatment) is impressive even where all the gloss and flash and showoff is overbearing. Worse, though, is how Longstreth only occasionally sounds humbled by the raw, personal subject matter, more interested in dramatic flourishes than emotional gravity. I don’t like to dismiss stuff as “faux-arty” or “too indulgent” because responding like that denies the artist a good-faith assumption of sincerity — but for fuck’s sake, how am I supposed to parse the overlong meandering outro or the awkwardly specific clichés or the insufferably trendy sound design, if not as signs that something in the foundation has gone rotten? It’s all the more frustrating for the glimpses of the love-is-over gutpunch that could have been: the chorus, wailing over a relationship’s ugly death, briefly makes tonal sense! As raw as the underlying emotions might have been, and as much as I want to engage with them, most of the finished tune feels infected with Dunning-Kruger levels of unwarranted confidence, announcing its arrival at every turn with smothering fanfare and pomp; something that should be heartfelt instead turned alienating.
Claire Biddles: I imagine it as a video, with close-cropped images of bits of the body: a finger snapping, lips tensing up and blowing into a mouthpiece, a tongue forming words right in front of the camera lens. Like everything’s percussive. It all comes from the body. Or maybe it’s a performance, a one-to-one performance, with all the human elements laid out in front of me. And then it’s the way these elements are processed and artificially shaken-up — blatant about the way real life is remodelled into stories. This has some of both the real life and the story — awkward made-up-on-the-spot phrasing falling into a reflective chorus when it needs to. Like the way we convince ourselves to be rational in heartbreak. And it takes its time. I guess all music comes from the body, maybe it’s obvious to say that. I don’t know, it just feels real.