Back in May, 2009, Icelandic diva Björk and avant-indie rockers Dirty Projectors got together for a very intimate concert to benefit the homeless and AIDS advocacy group Housing Works in New York City. Together they wrote and performed a new suite of songs called "Mount Wittenberg Orca," which was inspired by Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman sighting of a family of Orcas on the California coast, and features Björk singing the part of the mom whale.
Now they're reprising that collaboration with a new, digital-only release of the Mount Wittenberg Orca songs, available to purchase and download here. This seven-song, twenty-one-minute collection is the first original music Dirty Projectors has recorded since their groundbreaking Bitte Orca album, and feels more like a small album than an EP.
The music—originally written to be performed unamplified in a small Manhattan bookstore—was guided by a conversation between Dirty Projectors' David Longstreth and Björk about the small theaters in Italy where opera was born in the 1500s. The recording was informed by the simple, direct feel of early rock & roll recordings from the '50s. The band and Björk rehearsed for three days at the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn, and then recorded the songs as quickly and as live as possible, overdubbing only lead vocals and solos. The result feels like part children's story, part choral music from some strange future.
It's unlike anything else in the Projectors' body of work: Nat Baldwin's bass is massive and lumbering, like the silhouette of some undersea creature. Drums and guitars, so crucial to the songs on Bitte Orca, are all but absent. Instead, it's all about voices—and the voices are astonishing. Longstreth, sharing lead vocal duties with Björk, exudes a limber confidence. The Projectors women Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle sound beautiful and virtuosic. And Björk, seismic and elemental as always, sounds fresh in this new context, singing lead on half the songs.
This record is a triumph for Björk and for Dirty Projectors. It merges the energy and rawness of the band's live shows with the intricate arrangement and delicate beauty of Bitte Orca, and seems to do it effortlessly. Björk abides as a kind of artistic patron saint, sharing the spotlight rather than dominating it. Her mix of sophistication and emotion, of composition and instantaneity, has become the blueprint for a generation of creative musicians—and with Mount Wittenberg Orca, Dirty Projectors prove themselves at the forefront of that generation.