August 8, 2009
Dirty Projectors, Atlas Sound | The Earl | Atlanta, GA July 17, 2009
Words by Ryan Burleson; photos by Bob Butler
Bradford Cox is full of surprises, which, if you've heard of him before you read this, really should come as no surprise at all. Though his musical output-proper only sparked within this aging decade, Cox has released an astounding amount of material as collaborator (the Black Lips, Lotus Plaza), bandmate (Deerhunter) and songwriter (Atlas Sound). If he's not constantly evolving his multifarious musical identity – close to 20 releases put out by labels and freely given away online – he's somehow finding the time to make friends with Britt Daniels (Spoon), Noah Lennox (Animal Collective), Kim Deal (The Pixies, Breeders) and plenty of other indie rock institutions. Oh, and he collaborated with almost all of them, too.
When Cox took the stage as Atlas Sound on Friday night in his hometown, the audience should've seen it coming; he wouldn't be promoting the conventional wisdom fastened to his budding catalog. But, like most music fans of any particular taste, the sold-out crowd arrived primed for the familiar, wanting the best of his ambient, bedroom-pop mainstays. Standing outside the bar before the show, a friend and I listened as one fan described with acute detail the synthesized palette of electronic gadgets Cox would most certainly wield in his performance. The other Atlas Sound shows he'd seen online were like that, of course. The fan endearingly forgot the first principle of Cox's playbook – that there is no playbook.
With assistance from Herb Harris, Jason Harris and Tommy Chung of longtime Atlanta band, The Selmanaires, Cox briskly introduced the crowd to 5 new songs from his upcoming Logos record, not one of them resembling the material on Atlas Sound's debut, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. The ever-evolving theme in Cox's music had already manifested itself earlier in the day, though, with the online release of Logos' "Walkabout," a shimmering, salty pop song that Noah Lennox guests on – and, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, hardly recalls the new material Atlas Sound breezed through Friday night. Cox even played a harmonica during "Kid Climax," a track that sounded much like the others the band played that evening: straight-forward, rollicking indie rock that tastefully reminded the audience of Cox's Pavement-era influences wrapped in a warm, shoegaze vapor. The set was strong, but hardly memorable, vulnerably revealing a natural side-effect of Cox's restlessness as he charts the trajectory his music will take next.
Where Cox delivered a full, chord-based linear experience, Dave Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors presented a frenetic, note-hopping kaleidoscope of sound. Verging on being intellectually draining at times, the band more often delighted with its whimsical coaction of harmonic acrobatics and instrumental dexterity. Taking primarily from recently released and highly praised Bitte Orca material, Longstreth and co. embodied a creative confidence rarely seen in dingy, DIY club settings, where extreme self-consciousness prominently constitutes the vast majority of stages across the country on a nightly basis. The vocal interplay between Angel Deradoorian, Haley Deckle and Amber Coffman almost deserves a separate article on its own merit, consistently leaving the devoted audience in awe of its near-flawless proficiency and uncanny ability to remain catchy, simultaneously. Having little experience with Dirty Projectors before the show, their high-flying performance Friday night readily indicated why avant-pop luminaries such as David Byrne and Björk have recently collaborated with the band.