I think it’s hilarious that the new Xiu Xiu and Dirty Projectors records are being released on the same day. Tried my hardest to find a probably long deleted tweet from Jamie Stewart where he called David Longstreth either a colonialist or an imperialist (it was meaner—if only he left it up). Besides being contemporaries, Xiu Xiu and the Dirty Projectors never had much in common, but for once, on the same day, they’ve dovetailed: Xiu Xiu’s FORGET and Longstreth’s self-titled Dirty Projectors record are examples of dealing with pain in two totally opposite ways. They’re both emotionally messy, but what Xiu Xiu record isn’t? FORGET is Stewart and co.’s first collection of songy-songs since 2012’s Always (2014’s Angel Guts: Red Classroom was twisted melodic noise, and last year’s Plays the Music of Twin Peaks was an interpretation of Angelo Badalamenti’s original score). Yes, they put out a lot of records, maybe too many—Stewart said as much in a recent Reddit AMA—but why deprive your fans if you’re ripe?
Being a career band might not make for a good long-term narrative or get you the crush high of your first critical hit (see contemporaries like Deerhoof and Animal Collective that are currently taken for granted by everyone who brought them up where they are now), but it’s an admirable mission. There’s no conceit or personal narrative attached: FORGET is just another collection of sweet Xiu Xiu songs. It’s hit me quicker than anything since The Air Force—songs like “Get Up,” “Wondering,” “The Call,” “Jenny GoGo,” and “At Last, At Last” feel like instant classics in Stewart’s oeuvre. I’ve written about his work a lot and I struggle to gather much else up other than noting good hooks and signature sounds (that mangled descending keyboard line at the end of “Get Up,” the fuzzed out voice that hums melody of “At Last, At Last,” the nearly hymnal chorus of "Wondering"). In a way, Stewart’s work ethic and availability make him an anomaly: nobody is supposed to make music this fucked up and make it out alive. Xiu Xiu’s very strident and continued existence is its own salve, a gesture of solidarity and sympathy. Xiu Xiu records are communion with the audience, mutual catharsis, and acknowledgment of pain and suffering that’s rarely addressed even in the arts.
Dirty Projectors is the shadow of that outstretched hand, a petty and bitter break-up record full of personal details that serves nothing but Longstreth’s chapped, over-stroked ego. The album is full of unambiguous jabs at ex-girlfriend and ex-bandmate Amber Coffman: “What I want from art is truth/What you want is fame,” “The truth is you’d sell out the waterfront for condos and malls/I’d throw dice with the rest of ‘em/Down on Broad Street and Wall.” You must be fucking kidding me. Besides adopting the tired and obvious pose of the heartbroken break-up sad man in all of his recent press photos (beard, blank stare, dirty sweater), Longstreth overexerts himself trying not to sound like a prick, and falls on his face repeatedly. This is the sound of an asshole holding back. When he’s not packing in references to the late-aughts (“Blowing each other up SMS”) and scenes of the band’s ascent, Longstreth is clumsily insulting his ex-girlfriend over his somersaulting compositions. A lot of the music on here is fantastic, but the lyrics are impossible to ignore, even through the octave acrobatics of the vocals. By the end of “I See You,” the last track, he’s mellowed, but too little too late, buddy: “I believe that the love we shared is the art” would’ve been a lot more charitable and respectful than “I don’t think I ever loved you/that was some stupid shit.”
But the third song “Up in Hudson” is a minor masterpiece, despite the painfully specific lyrics. It's a thrilling piece, full of multitracked horns and blown out trumpets in the chorus, all leading up to a hypnotic percussion outro that stands up there with the best of Bitte Orca. Nevertheless, Longstreth name checks the Bowery Ballroom, flip phones, “moving to Brooklyn,” sleeping on floors, sharing the stage side by side, and then he casually reveals that him and Coffman “both had girl and boyfriends” when their courtship began. What’s the point of this? It feels like assault, recrimination from a bitter person that wants to hurt their ex. Sure, Longstreth cops to his failings as a partner—he “never listened,” never took Coffman seriously, he was “condescending”—this isn’t exactly uncharted territory, but it’s a world removed even from Bob Dylan’s “Sara,” when he moaned and made up the myth that he “stayed up all night writing ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’” for Sara in the Chelsea Hotel (it came together in Nashville). According to a profile in The New York Times: “After their breakup, Longstreth and Coffman reached a détente solid enough that she asked him to produce her solo record.” But now, “with some stray exceptions, he and Coffman hadn’t spoken in a year.” I hope this is all a cynical marketing ploy to get more attention for both of their solo records (can’t wait for some clapback from Coffman!), and Longstreth (who has a girlfriend) is just doing his best Blood on the Tracks impression on the advice of some coked-out PR consultant in Williamsburg. Unlike other archetypal break-up records (Sea Change; Vulnicura; For Emma, Forever Ago), Longstreth lands closer to Robin Thicke's Paula, his embarrassing follow-up to "Blurred Lines" where he spends nearly an hour begging his wife to get back with him after years of infidelity. It's pathetic, and even though Longstreth is a gifted producer and arranger (the Beatlesesque double-tracked vocals on "Keep Your Name" are especially delicious), listening to Dirty Projectors mostly feels like rubbernecking.
Why associate Stewart and Longstreth? I like to imagine them trapped in an elevator. Who would survive? Jamie Stewart will always be the lovable and honorable misanthrope compared to true prick David Longstreth. Stewart explained the title of FORGET in a recent interview with Artforum: “My entire psychology is fraught with negative obsessiveness. It’s very difficult for me to remove a negative thought from my mind; it will sort of loop around in there—a very boring symptom of depression I think a lot of people deal with. Only recently has it occurred to me that I can put some effort into literally trying to forget something that is plaguing me.” Longstreth should take a hint and adorn his sonic sculptures with less openly contemptuous lyrics. Reach out and touch faith—do something for someone else, talk to them, not her, not the TV.
If the comparison makes them uncomfortable, good: that’s their trade.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992