Written by Jourdan-Reiss Russell
All is not well with Dirty Projectors. After frontman David Longstreth split with his long time girlfriend and band mate Amber Coffman, the band underwent a gestation period that culminated in the self-titled LP, which was released earlier this year.
An album that was just as solitary as the project’s beginnings, Longstreth’s wounded croon and modulated harmonies were accompanied by visceral and heavy electronic production that felt as seismic as the collapse of the once-harmonious, eclectic band. The fall was almost inevitable, though; Dirty Projectors had long since lost a vital member of the crew in Angel Deradoorian and there was a long, silent 5 year period between Swing Lo Magellan and this year’s offering, in hindsight likely due to internal struggles.
But Deradoorian struck it out alone with last year’s vibrant and colourful The Exploding Flower Planet, and Amber Coffman will be damned if she can’t go and do the same. Her first solo LP, City Of No Reply, is buoyant, eclectic and melancholic. Simply put, it sounds more like Dirty Projectors than Dirty Projectors.
The album is ostensibly about her past relationship – this is a definitive breakup record – but it covers the whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts one goes through one goes through once love is lost. Take the opening ballad, ‘All To Myself’, with its simple yet powerful drums and classic Dirty Projectors autotuned vocal melody. Coffman sweetly sings about the almost crippling feeling of loneliness, deftly describing how debilitating it is to move on from a long-term working and personal relationship with a mixture of narration and metaphor such as wanting to be “swallowed up in an ocean of love” in order to save herself, before concluding that the best way to move on is to finally listen to the “voice inside [her] head”.
It’s a beautiful ode to recovery, one that transcends breakups and could be applied to any kind of heartache or loss. From there, Coffman proceeds to roll back the years and delivers a suite of songs that could easily have been at home on either Bitte Orca or Swing Lo Magellan. ‘No Coffee’ is a stripped back track that evokes the easygoing, yet dangerously infectious nature of songs like ‘About To Die’ or ‘Just From Chevron’, cribbing from country just as much as indie rock. ‘Dark Night’ features playful, skittering production laden with synths, behind a saccharine layered harmony. The title track marries seriously poetic lyricism about dancing with ghosts and dubious men with a marching, funky beat that bounces jubilantly in contrast.
Each of the eleven tracks on City Of No Reply perform, with varying effect, this kind of magic trick that Dirty Projectors are known for; unorthodox and well-informed music mixed with verbose and melodic lyrics. But with Coffman fronting this show, the songs retain something that Dirty Projectors’ best projects had in spades; accessibility. The album’s songs are complex and change pace and intensity often, but every song still is listenable and relatable, thanks in no small part to how Coffman delivers her album’s main topic. Even in its less energetic final third, City Of No Reply manages to impress, such as the intense and powerful chorus of ‘Brand New’ or the tender closing track ‘Kindness’ and its brilliant brass bridge that sees off the album.
It’s a cliché, the breakup album. No matter how good one is, this fact won’t change; the range of content and ideas you can use for your music is quite limited. Although City Of No Reply naturally suffers from falling into such cliché, it’s the candid manner in which Coffman interprets and presents her own emotional state that allows her album to transcend the limitations of the ‘breakup album’. You can take Coffman out of Dirty Projectors, but you can’t take Dirty Projectors out of Coffman, and City Of No Reply is up there with the band’s best.
Listen to No Coffee below.