The new prog rock starts with icons and myths. For the Fiery Furnaces, a legendary grandmother serves as muse for fantastical operas. Sufjan Stevens devoted an entire record to Michigan, claiming forty-nine like-minded LPs were on the way (Delaware should be interesting). Now Dirty Projectors, Dave Longstreth’s orchestral project, has made a whole album centered on Don Henley. Don Henley, Hernan Cortes and finches. Helpfully, Longstreth has included on his Web site a “synopsis” of the The Getty Address, which features the former Eagles frontman as the troubled hero of a J.M. Coetzee-like post-colonial dreamscape.
But sift through all this accompanying baggage and be thankful: there’s a darkly alluring album buried underneath. The record opens with the Westminster Boys Choir trapped in the Tower of London, being made to sing for their supper but increasingly fearful that they are supper. Okay, not really. In fact, those ethereal voices belong to a women’s chorus that emerges throughout Getty, haunting the record. Or, if you believe Longstreth, they are Henley’s mental choir, singing “ga da wuor la trubae lune” (a rough transliteration of “got a world of trouble on my mind,” from the Eagles tune “Take It Easy”).
The Getty Address comes after two different but excellent albums Dirty Projectors released on Western Vinyl, and as it slowly unfurls it unveils its debts to each. Slaves’ Graves and Ballads (2004) featured the Longstreth-founded ten-piece chamber group, the Orchestral Society for the Preservation of the Orchestra, and the elegant, surprising tones of double-reeds and strings heard there also underpin Getty. But this is no organized symphony; the orchestra, as Longstreth deploys it, sounds like a philharmonic perpetually warming up. However, coupled with Longstreth’s yearning, intimate voice (think Devendra Banhart), the warmth of which emerged on 2003’s The Glad Fact, it carves out an otherworldly plane and distills the singer’s solemn revelations.
So consciously a unified story, Getty gives off a strange narrative duality. It is schizophrenic and disjointed but ultimately united by its free-floating motifs. This makes sense when you learn how it was constructed. Or, rather, deconstructed. After recording the original choral and orchestral arrangements, Longstreth took them apart, recreated the whole, and then added his own vocals.
This sense of healing fracture is often evident within individual tracks and can be deeply affecting. “I Will Truck,” with its quavering falsetto, ominous beats and entropic orchestral wisps, recalls a Jeff Buckley B-side run over by said truck and glued back together. The interwoven symphonic cuts of “Jolly Jolly Jolly Ego” jitter at first, then settle into a deeply soulful song that sounds like a wake held on the hottest day of summer; its soft vibraphone strikes are the sweat droplets falling from a bottle of beer. Getty‘s physical reconstruction also ultimately allows the album to cohere as a whole. Particularly after a few listens, the separated melodies begin to search for and find each other, connecting to form a web that rebuilds the record anew.
And so, in a sense, The Getty Address is two albums. There is the one Longstreth spliced together, in which detached strains are joined into lovely epochs. And then there is the one that was dismantled but still lingers beneath, reforming on every listen, only beginning to make itself heard.
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