Will the Dirty Projectors Make ‘the Leap’?

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Ever since it leaked in April, the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca — the Brooklyn band’s sixth album, officially out yesterday — has been so thoroughly salivated over, we have to ask: Will they be the next Brooklyn band to make the Leap?

Brooklyn hipsters take their share of ridicule, but the scene they belong to continues to birth a remarkable string of nationally successful, and awesome, rock-and-roll bands. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs got the streak started when they went from local sensation to a national one after the release of “Maps” as a single in early 2004. They passed the baton to their buddies TV on the Radio, who had an auspicious 2004 debut but officially made the Leap with 2006’s beloved Return to Cookie Mountain. Later that year, the Hold Steady broke out with Boys and Girls in America. In 2007, the National released Boxer, and went Leaping themselves.

What, exactly, does making the Leap constitute? It’s not the type of thing that can be quantified in record sales (although those do jump, as well), but rather in the slice of the national consciousness the bands take up after making it, as manifested in big-festival sets, late-night–TV appearances, and national-magazine features. If your mother could theoretically bring up the band in conversation without you spitting out your O.J., they’ve made the Leap.

Smart money was on Vivian Girls, the sunny punk-rock trio, to be next in line, and not the proudly odd Dirty Projectors (their 2007 album Rise Above was supposedly a reimagining of Black Flag’s Damaged, an album that lead Projector Dave Longstreth hadn’t heard in over ten years). But the really-fucking-good (and accessible!) Bitte Orca shook things up. So, is the Leap imminent? Vulture breaks down the Projectors’ position.

General Strategy: Very sound. After a string of releases on small indies Dead Oceans and Western Vinyl, the band jumped to the higher-profile Domino for Orca. Longstreth has also solidified his lineup around the guitarist/vocalist Amber Coffman and keyboardist/vocalist Angel Deradoorian, and the lovely pair are featured on the cover of the album.

Critical Reception: Bitte Orca's currently enjoying an 87 score on Metacritic, including a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork. More important is the way critics are talking about the experimentally inclined band: “stepping away from left field,” “bright pop center,” “enjoyable.”

National Exposure: The band is getting national shine via NPR and Pitchfork’s regular New Music Monday spot on ABC. Which means even straightlaced World News Sunday anchor Dan Harris knows there’s “huge buzz on that album.”

Elder-Statesmen Approval: Much like David Bowie co-signing TV on the Radio before them, the Dirty Projectors have gotten the seal of approval from David Byrne, who collaborated with them on "Knotty Pine” and then raved about them in typical Byrne fashion: “Their music … often sounds like pop music by someone who has read about the form, but never heard it.”

Peer Approval: They also have contemporary friends in the right places: On the Domino site, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, who toured with the Dirty Projectors at some point earlier this century, declares that Bitte Orca is "not Physical Graffiti for 2K9; it’s 2K9’s Physical Graffiti.”

X-Factor: Are they still too weird? The only band mentioned above even close to being as out-there is TV on the Radio, and it’s not all that close. Is Bitte Orca actually accessible? Or does it just feel that way next to the rest of Longstreth’s strange body of work? Also, another, perhaps less important, X-Factor: An orca whale is another name for a killer whale; people love whales!

The Determination: Does all this add up to a Leap? Probably not — despite the raves, we just can’t picture the fundamentally different Dirty Projectors awkwardly glad-handing with Jimmy Fallon … as much as we’d like to.