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Black Sky Thinking

Dirty Projectors & The Curse Of Brooklyn's Hipster Ephemera
Mimi Haddon , July 29th, 2009 06:27

They're this summer's most talked about group in certain post and zip codes, but the Dirty Projectors stand for everything that's wrong with the hipster mentality, says Mimi Haddon. Artwork by David J Moats.

So sure, I'm a little late on the uptake and maybe I'm like so last month? Well quite. But there appears to be a dearth of sufficient rebellion against US twee indie. The inept and sexless vocals emitted from these preening New Yorkers has never before been more offensive than in the brattish whining of Dirty Projectors (or Bedford Ave does Mary Kate and Ashley), the zenith of shallow hipster chic. At the release of their most recent album Bitte Orca it was suggested on this site that, 'the banal is made exciting through strange noises, layered vocals, funk when you least expect it.' But surely this is the problem? Longstreth and pals are the epitome of ephemera, the saccharine sound of candy floss dissolving before we've even begun to feel gratified.

With want of anything 'meaningful' to say, the Projectors' question, "is life under the sun just a crazy, crazy dream?" is apparently sufficient. Everyone loves the summer, right? This lyric from 'Stillness Is The Move' not only sums up the terrifying and indulgent apathy of swathes of youth but it's part of a song in which Crystal, no Barbie, no Amber sings over what sounds like Chun Li's intro music — using Street Fighter soundz to press our vulnerable and generation-sensitive buttons.

The band's syncopated vocal lines resemble queen Carey only insomuch as they're a self-conscious white girl's take on R&B with indiscriminate edgy breathing accompanied by some stuff played backwards. What's more, the vocal melismas have been cunningly coated in electronic distortion so's we don't notice the chasm left in skill's place.

But for many of the L-train riding contemporaries of Dirty Projectors, that Am Appy wool only stretches so far. Bear Hands leave nothing other than a streak of trebly guitar piss; School of Seven Bells merely a semblance of atmospherics; while political correctness — or ironic post-Colonialism — made it legal for Vampire Weekend to adopt Afrobeat in their jumpy, preppy vacuity.

Claiming that they 'just' write 'pop music' is a common defence squeaking from the mouths of these skinny dilettantes (see also: Vivian Girls) designed to make us believe that what they're doing isn't in earnest and to disguise the fact they take themselves so terrifyingly seriously. Seemingly aware of their transient status, Dirty Projectors made a tape. Kitsch — or ascribing value to something inherently terrible — relies on after-the-fact reception and nostalgia. We're all agreed that no one throws out a lovely warm warped little tape, but the crux of the fuzzy hipster logic is that the contents of the spools are of no consequence since the act of playing a tape is cute enough. The dolly mixture music inside only reinforces the commodity fetishism of listening on old skool equipment.

When the Guardian website finally collapses under the weight of its Brooklyn mayfly overload no one will know what or how to think any more. Each week the gaping hole in the heart of culture is filled with a series of gritty and/or nostalgic words that have had their meaning stripped out. 'Dirty': sure, illicit sexiness is cool and maybe you've got some soil or even PBR on your trendy shorts? 'Projectors': anything with demoded photographic cachet is a sure hit for those with an eye for vintage.

'Hitting the spot like Gatorade' and singing about the quotidian in a geeky stutter does not make for modest profundity or a great deal of humour. But I suppose it's all they have to worry about other than pretending they can't afford to eat and dressing like the cast of Saved by the Bell since the New York Times's Christine Haughney revealed that Williamsburg bohemia was nothing other than faux. Who knew? The global financial crisis means parental support is waning and the young things have to get jobs.

Rock is a famously middle-class genre with an almost exclusive art college lineage in the UK. But class is one thing and substance is another. The noise of summery lipgloss, unrestrained mirth at your own on-trend superiority and band names that allude to femininity or animals all sound potentially delicious — but won't you feel a 'douche' when everyone's wearing their autumn sweaters in few weeks and the money's run out on the 'mom' metre?