Dirty Projectors + Pikelet @ the Hi-Fi (9/3/10)

(Published on News Hit 29/3/10)

I had read a lot of good things about Pikelet, but never heard any of the group’s music. So I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the HiFi Bar and saw that they were the support act for Dirty Projectors. I had expectations, and Pikelet did not disappoint.

Frontwoman (and initial member) Evelyn Morris and her three bandmates drenched the venue in psychedelic, ambient pop. Combining electronic effects (loops, keyboard) with conventional   instruments (guitar, bass, drums), as well as not-so-conventional instruments (clarinet, triangle played with a spoon, wooden blocks, plastic whistles, hand clapper), Pikelet’s sound is highly unique without trying too hard. It’s experimental yet melodic, poppy yet discordant at times; however, I would definitely say that Pikelet’s music is an acquired taste.

Although I didn’t know any of Pikelet’s songs, I got swept up in the dreamy atmosphere that was formed by layers of melodies, creative percussion beats, Evelyn’s one-woman harmonies, and some truly weird electronic sounds. Upon listening to some of Pikelet’s songs on Youtube and music-sharing sites such as Hype Machine, I’ve realised that half the group’s charm is in seeing them perform live; the recordings and videos do not do them justice.

Brooklyn six-piece (although the number of members varies) Dirty Projectors‘ music is often classified as ‘experimental pop’, but other than that, is hard to describe. Their songs regularly feature tempo changes, catchy grooves and beats, and what sounds to me like Middle Eastern and African-influenced melodies. They played a total of fourteen songs, seven of which were off their latest album Bitte Orca (full set list for the show can be seen here), which is also the one I am most familiar with. While I think highly of Bitte Orca, I dismissed Dirty Projectors‘ previous albums as a bit too experimental for my liking).

However, after seeing them live, I am not sure how I came to that conclusion so quickly; I should have given it time to grow on me, because just about every song that was performed was superb. The band members were engaging and fun to watch, as they danced, thrashed about on their instruments, and stared into space at appropriate times within songs. Frontman (vocalist and guitarist) David Longstreth appeared to be especially absorbed in the music, making jerky head movements in time with the music whilst playing crazy, fast riffs without any apparent effort.

Band members were constantly leaving and returning to the stage, depending on which instruments were needed. One highlight of the set was when multi-instrumentalist Angel Deradoorian took over lead vocals for a beautiful rendition of Two Doves, and was accompanied simply by Longstreth’s fingerpicking on acoustic guitar. The entire audience stood still, mesmerised by Deradoorian’s tone and control.

At times there were three guitars, each playing different things; this created a full, confronting wall of sound which was a lot to take in at times, yet also forced everyone to focus their full attention on the music in order not to miss anything.

Overall the sound quality for the night was good, with all the instruments being well represented in the mix. The one criticism that I can make, however, was that the drums became exceedingly loud at times, resulting in one older audience member to say, “Please don’t drum so loudly, it’s hurting our ears”. Even if this decision was a deliberate one by the audio engineer for dynamic effect, the noise level did indeed occasionally verge on painful.

I was arguably most impressed by the way the three female vocalists’ worked together in flawlessly executing both their three-part harmonies and also in singing in unison so perfectly it sounded like one voice. In some songs, the vocals feature more as extra instruments, forming chords or melodic riffs, as can be seen in When the World Comes to an End (the second and final song in their encore).


The Dirty Projectors performing ‘When the World Comes to an End’ at The Bottom Lounge (Chicago) on November 13, 2009.

That night, I left The Hi-Fi in a daze, unable to get the strange and wonderful musical sounds I had witnessed out of my head. I was also left with many feelings of great appreciation towards the civilised conduct and mutual enthusiasm that I had witnessed in my fellow audience members. I now have much more love and respect not only for Dirty Projectors, but for the genre of experimental pop music in general.

NOTES:

  • I found this review of a Dirty Projectors show in New Zealand (4/3/10) which differs greatly from my own. Read it here if you’re interested.
  • Download Ascending Melody and Emblem of the World for free directly from Dirty Projectors’ website.
  • In case you’re interested in more, my personal favourite Dirty Projectors song and recommendation is Stillness is the Move off Bitte Orca.
  • Check out Solange Knowles’ (Beyoncé’s younger sister) cover of Stillness is the Move here, and the version where Solange Knowles sings the song WITH Dirty Projectors (YES, IT HAPPENED) here. You’re welcome.
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