The most striking thing about Dave Longstreth's Mount Wittenberg Orca is that it's anything more than an art-pop pipe dream. Pairing the vocal pyrotechnics of his Dirty Projectors with elven iconoclast Björk for a song cycle about a family of Californian whales seems too good/weird to be true, but here it is, with all profits from the 21-minute EP going to the National Geographic Society's Oceans Initiative.
Written in a matter of weeks for a 2009 benefit show, then recorded on the quick earlier this year, the seven-part suite presents subdued variations on the fractured sing-song of the Projectors' breakthrough Bitte Orca, drastically downplaying Longstreth's spindly electric guitar in favor of rhythmic vocal compositions. (The one exception: "No Embrace," which wouldn't have sounded at all out of place on that record.) The most interesting thing about Wittenberg may be how thoroughly Björk—playing the role of mama whale to DP ingenues Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian's eager-to-please babies—adapts to the ensemble setting. Though she sings lead on joyful highlight "On and Ever Onward" and two other tracks, just as much focus is placed on the interplay with her baby whales in the EP's wordless, cooing undercurrent. (Longstreth, apparently unfazed by his high-profile guest, gives himself equal time in the spotlight as Wittenberg's cliffbound human narrator.) In the end, then, it's Coffman and Deradoorian that should be proudest of their work here, not only for the delightful showcase "Beautiful Mother" but also for the fact that on the bulk of the record it's hard to tell which voice is Björk's. Is there higher praise?