Have you ever eaten goulash? It's the national dish of Hungary. It's a stew, made up of meat, noodles, vegetables, and spices. In other words, it's what you get when you throw all the food you've got in a pot and stir.
The Dirty Projectors' Swing Lo Magellan, which was released today on Domino Records, is a goulash in and of itself. Claiming such disparate influences as Lil Wayne, Guided by Voices, Neil Young, Blind Willie, New Jack Swing and the Bible, Swing Lo Magellan is a ridiculously dense album, full of more distinct styles and even distinct sounds than is perhaps possible to process.
I have listened to this album four times now, and I still don't know whether it's good or not. However, this is perhaps the most important quality of Swing Lo Magellan: it's so confounding that you can't look away.
Let's get this out of the way first: Swing Lo Magellan does not contain another "Stillness Is The Move." By that, I mean there are no stone-cold jammers on this album, nothing that might get covered by Beyonce's sister and cause you to have delusions of grandeur involving the Dirty Projectors finding their way onto Hot 97 playlists.
Instead, the songs on Swing Lo Magellan can really be divided into two categories: songs that sound like Bob Dylan songs, and songs that don't sound like Bob Dylan songs. There's "Swing Lo Magellan." That one sounds like Bob. "Impregnable Question," too. "Irresponsible Tune" also, but that one kind of sounds like it was recorded in space, or at least an echo chamber.
The ones that don't sound like Dylan are insanely ridiculously varied. Perhaps the best song on the record is "The Socialites," a woozy slow-burner that recalls the equally-knowing world pop of Dirty P's contemporaries Vampire Weekend (the groups have shared members in the past, so the connection between the two groups is pretty strong). Other highlights include the relatively straightforward "Gun Has No Trigger" and the stickily sweet "Dance For You."
Still, these are not songs that crack easily. Most of this album is highly abstract, and the song titles and lyrics only add to this -- why title one of the best songs on your album "Maybe That Was It"? It's an "Impregnable Question," as the next song would have you believe. But that's the charm of Swing Lo Magellan.
It's a total indie rock anomaly. Give this album time. Allow it to grow on you. Before you know it, you might just have a new favorite album. Or at least a new favorite album to think about.